Workplace violence is a growing problem in Georgia and across the U.S. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, about 2 million employees in the U.S. report that being victims of workplace violence every year. Those who are in the retail, health care and service industries are particularly vulnerable to workplace violence because of their contact with the public. In November 2013, a Georgia appellate court held that an employee who was a victim of workplace violence could only obtain workers’ compensation benefits for her injuries, not a personal injury lawsuit. Georgia employees should be aware of the details of the court’s decision and how it impacts their options for recovery when injured at work.
The holding in Dawson v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. stemmed from an attack that a Wal-Mart employee suffered on January 30, 2010 in the parking lot of the store. She was supposed to begin work at 5:00 a.m., and when she was walking across the parking lot to enter the store she was knocked unconscious by a stranger’s car. The man driving the vehicle then put her in his car and took her to a wooded area near the store, where he physically and sexually assaulted the woman for more than an hour.
The woman later brought a personal injury suit against the store, alleging that the store was negligent in not providing security footage to the police expediently. She argued that her injuries would not have been as extensive if they store had given the security footage to the police more quickly. Wal-Mart argued that the suit should be dismissed because the woman’s injuries should be compensated under Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act, and the personal injury suit should be prohibited under the state’s exclusive remedy doctrine.
The exclusive remedy doctrine stems from O.C.G.A. § 34-9-11, which states that an employee’s “sole and exclusive” remedy against an employer for injuries suffered while on the job is workers’ compensation benefits. The exclusive remedy doctrine prevents employees from bringing personal injury lawsuits against employers when the employees suffer workplace injuries. In Dawson the issue before the court was whether the woman’s injuries arose out of her employment. The general rule in Georgia is that felonious attacks on employees by third parties are covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act as long as the attack is not for reasons that are personal to the employee.
In this case, the court ruled that because the woman did not know her attacker, her assault was covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act. The court dismissed her personal injury lawsuit. The woman appealed the court’s decision, and the appellate court upheld the dismissal of her suit.
When an employee is injured on the job, it is critical that the employee has someone advocating for him or her. Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation laws are complex, and those who are injured on the job should seek the assistance of a skilled workers’ compensation attorney who can help them obtain all of the benefits for which they are eligible. If you have been injured while working, talk to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can help you navigate the workers’ compensation system.