If a person is injured while working, her or his injury and expenses are likely covered through the benefits outlined in Florida’s Workers’ Compensation statutes. In exchange for providing a path to medical care and financial relief quickly, an employer is rewarded with immunity from civil action. This helps the employee to feel assured the accident is covered and ensure the employer is confident business can move on without extensive litigation. Florida’s statutes provide an exception to this immunity. The immunity fails when an employer commits an intentional tort that causes the injury or death; or the employer engages in conduct knowing based on certain events in the past, death or injury was almost certain to occur. The immunity does not extend to fellow employees when they act with such willful and wanton disregard or gross negligence to have caused the accident.
The Florida Fifth District Court of appeal recently tackled the question of whether one of the exceptions to the immunity applied in an industrial accident. The parents of a mill-worker filed suit against his employer and fellow worker after he died while inside the mixing box of a cement-mixing pug mill. The parents alleged the other employee began operating the mill without checking to see if he was still inside first. The defendants sought summary judgment in its favor, arguing the claims were barred by workers’ compensation immunity.
The trial court granted the motion, finding there was no genuine issue of material fact and the defendants were entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. The trial court looked at whether the exceptions applied, and determined they did not. The parents appealed, arguing this was in error. The court analyzed the three elements needed to reach one of the exceptions to the immunity against the facts found in Gorham v. Zachry Indus., 105 So. 3d 629, 633 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013).