Injuries at the Workplace From Third-Party Attacks in Georgia

The Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act contains a provision that makes it an exclusive remedy for workers injured at work. This means that workers may not bring a separate tort action against their employer for injuries caused by employment-related accidents. This includes in many instances a felonious assault upon an employee by a third-party.

In a recent case, a woman filed a lawsuit alleging negligence against Wal-Mart based on an attack and kidnapping she suffered at the Georgia store where she worked. She was a department manager at Wal-Mart and was scheduled to start work at 5:00 a.m. in January 2010. A man previously convicted of rape had been drinking in the parking lot waiting for his own work shift to begin elsewhere.

Before the woman could go inside the store, the man drove a Jeep into the woman, kidnapped her, and drove her 2 miles away. The woman’s coworker saw the kidnapping and told their manager, who in turn told the authorities. The man and woman struggled and he physically and sexually assaulted her.
The asset protection manager gave the police officers video surveillance that allowed them to identify the driver of the Jeep. A deputy found the Jeep by the side of the road and found the woman. He took her to the hospital. Local residents reported somebody was running back towards Wal-Mart. The man was caught nearby.

In a later investigation, the man’s girlfriend claimed that the man had been angry with her the night before and that he had told her he was in the parking lot trying to sober up. The man was convicted of charges related to the attack and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The woman sued Wal-Mart for failing to turn over the surveillance video to officers on an untimely fashion, which allowed her to be attacked for a longer period. She claimed negligence. Wal-Mart moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Georgia Workers Compensation Act barred the woman’s lawsuit (“the Act”). The trial court agreed that because the woman’s injuries were covered by the Act, her tort claims were barred.

She appealed, arguing her injuries had not arisen from her Wal-Mart employment. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. It explained that even assaults by third parties can be incidents covered by the Act, if the act is not directed at the employee for reasons personal to the employee.

This means, the court must first consider whether the injuries arose out of and in the course of employment. If yes, they are barred by the exclusive remedy provision. The woman in this case conceded her injuries arose in the course of her employment with Wal-Mart, but not “out of” her employment. She argued that it was a factual question whether the attack was personal. The man may have attacked her because she resembled his girlfriend.

The appellate court explained that “out of” means there has to be a causal connection between the employment conditions and the injury. If an injury is a natural incident of the work, it arises out of employment.

The court ruled that the plaintiff was simply speculating about motive based on the investigating officer’s affidavit. She didn’t have testimony from the man on this point. The court explained that she was attacked while walking from lot to store at an early morning hour in connection with her employment at that time. Therefore the Workers’ Compensation Act applied.

If you are hurt by someone’s intentional conduct, you may be wondering if you can file a lawsuit and recover damages. Experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney Terrence R. Bethune may be able to help assess your case, file a lawsuit and fight for you to recover the compensation you deserve. Contact us at 404-875-7800 or via our online form.

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