Articles & Updates

Missouri Supreme Court Reverses 2017 Jury Verdict, Provides Long-Awaited Guidance On Co-Employee Liability


In a win for Missouri businesses, the Missouri Supreme Court found in favor of arguments presented by attorney Brian Shank from the law firm of Evans & Dixon, LLC on November 9th, 2021. The Opinion issued by the Supreme Court in Brock v. Peter Dunne, in his Capacity as Defendant Ad Litem for Mark Edwards, Deceased, clarifies and narrows  the circumstances in which an employee injured on the job may bring a civil suit against a co-worker or supervisor.

In 2012, the Missouri legislature amended section 287.120.1 of the workers’ compensation statute to extend the employer’s immunity from civil liability for workplace injuries of employees to fellow employees, such as co-workers and supervisors, unless a narrow exception applies. Prior to 2012, the workers’ compensation statute provided employers with immunity from civil suits, but the statute “was silent as to co-employees.”

In April 2017, the first case was tried under the new statutory exception, and it resulted in a gross verdict of $1.05 million. Four years later, the Supreme Court reversed the jury verdict and entered judgment in the defendant’s favor. In a 4-2 decision, the Supreme Court held that the co-employee defendant was immune from civil liability under section 287.120.1, the exception did not apply, and the plaintiff failed to make a submissible case of common law negligence. 

Danny Brock worked on a high-pressure laminating machine under the supervision of Mark Edwards when he was injured. The day of the accident, Edwards advised Brock to clean excess glue off a set of moving rollers. While the rollers were moving, Edwards lifted a hinged guard covering the pinch point between the rollers. Brock’s left thumb got caught in the pinch point when he used a wet rag to remove glue from the moving rollers. According to Brock’s surgeon, the incident resulted in permanent pain, nerve and structural damage, and limited use of his thumb and hand. Brock obtained workers’ compensation benefits from his employer, and settled a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the laminating machine. Brock also sued Edwards for negligence. Edwards died after being deposed but before trial.

-This is the first Supreme Court decision to interpret the 2012 amendment to section 287.120.1 of the workers’ compensation statute.

-Under section 287.120.1, co-employees are immune from civil liability for injuries they cause on the job unless they “engaged in an affirmative negligent act that purposefully and dangerously caused or increased the risk of injury.”

-To satisfy the statute, the plaintiff has the burden of showing that the co-employee’s affirmative negligent act was performed “with the intention and purpose to increase the risk of injury” to the plaintiff. In other words, there must be evidence the co-employee acted “with the conscious object of increasing the risk of injury.”

-Separately, the plaintiff also has the burden of demonstrating that the co-employee breached a legal duty of care “separate and apart from the employer’s foreseeable duty to provide a safe workplace.”

-By interpreting the plain language of the workers’ compensation statute, the Supreme Court’s decision raises the bar which plaintiffs must overcome in order to pursue civil claims against co-workers when they have received workers’ compensation benefits for workplace injuries. The Opinion also provides guidance for trial courts and the Court of Appeals as to how the statute and the common law cases should be applied to co-employee suits moving forward.


The Brock v. Dunne opinion may be accessed from the Supreme Court’s website by clicking here
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