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.”
-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.