You Be the Judge

Did Driver’s Death Arise Out of His Employment?

After a brutal murder in the workplace, the court must decide whether workers' comp is the exclusive remedy.
By: | March 31, 2016

OA Logistics Services contracted with Staffchex to provide temporary workers to work in a warehouse owned by OA. A worker applied for a position with Staffchex using an alias. Certain portions of his application form were incomplete, and his photo identification appeared different from his actual appearance.

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OA required Staffchex to perform criminal background checks on workers before they were employed, but before the worker’s check was returned, he began working at the OA warehouse. The check on the alias would eventually show no criminal history, although the worker had a felony criminal record.

Before the return of the criminal background check, the worker worked at the warehouse along with a forklift driver. The driver’s forklift ran out of fuel, so he went to an office area to inquire about refueling.

As he waited outside the office, the worker entered the office and attempted to kiss a female coworker, who pushed him away. The worker smirked and walked out. The worker then produced a gun and shot the driver in the back of the head, reentered the office, and sexually assaulted the female coworker. The female coworker said that the driver had not been aware of the assault, had not attempted to intervene, and had not interacted with the worker before that occasion.

The driver died. His mother sued OA, Staffchex, and the worker, alleging that OA and Staffchex negligently conducted the hiring process. OA and Staffchex argued that the driver’s exclusive remedy was in workers’ compensation. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment. The mother appealed.

Was the trial court correct in finding the suit was barred under the exclusive remedy provision?

  • A . Yes. The driver’s work required him to be in a location that heightened his risk of injury or criminal attack.
  • B. Yes. The driver and the worker had a work-related dispute that escalated into violence.
  • C. No. The record did not establish any connection between the attack and the driver’s work or workplace.

How the Court Ruled

A is incorrect. The court found that the driver’s work did not require him to be in a location that heightened his risk of injury or criminal attack. The court concluded that the positional risk doctrine did not show that the driver’s death arose out of his employment.

B is incorrect. The court found that the driver and worker did not have any work-related dispute. The female coworker testified that they had no interaction before the worker shot the driver.

C is correct. In Sturgess v. OA Logistics Services, Inc., et al., No. A15A2139 (Ga. Ct. App. 02/15/16), the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred by concluding that the driver’s injury arose out of and in the course of his employment.

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The parties agreed that the driver’s death occurred in the course of his employment because it occurred while he was on duty performing his job functions at his employment location. The court found that the driver’s death did not arise out of his employment.

There was no high-crime element to the workplace location or a risk of theft or robbery associated with the workplace. The risk of a random attack was no more heightened at the driver’s workplace than at any other place.

Editor’s note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.

Christina Lumbreras is a Legal Editor for Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]