Assault at Job Covered by Workers’ Comp, Mississippi Supreme Court Rules

By William Rabb | January 21, 2022

A man gets assaulted at work by two co-workers. Is the man’s recourse for his injuries limited only to the exclusive remedy of the workers’ compensation system?

The Mississippi Supreme Court this month said, “yes,” despite the employee’s claims of negligent hiring and vicarious liability against the employer. In Schaffner Manufacturing Co. vs. Darius Powell, the court reversed a lower court and found that the Mississippi’s Workers’ Compensation Act governs the claims.

And although the law defines a workplace injury as one arising from an accident, the justices said that acts of gross negligence and recklessness fall into that category.

Powell had claimed that the two other workers at the Jackson, Mississippi, manufacturing site assaulted him in 2017. Eighteen months later, he filed a lawsuit against the men and the manufacturer, a maker of soap and mineral products.

Justice Randolph

The trial court found that the claims against the co-workers were barred by a one-year statute of limitations. But the claims against Schaffner, for negligent hiring and supervision and vicarious liability, were allowed and were not governed by the workers’ comp grand bargain, the trial court found.

Schaffner, which has offices in Pittsburgh, appealed. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with the employer and concluded that the workers’ compensation system was the exclusive venue for all claims against the manufacturer.

“Applying Mississippi law to the face of the complaint, Powell’s claims of negligent hiring, retention, supervision, and general negligence for failing to provide a safe work environment are all claims of direct negligence against Schaffner,” Chief Justice Michael Randolph wrote for the court. “These claims properly fall within the scope of the (Workers’ Comp) Act. Therefore, the Act is Powell’s exclusive remedy for those claims, and those claims should have been dismissed.”

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