Deliberate Intent, Workers’ Compensation Immunity in West Virginia – Dotson v. Elite Oil Field Services

Another day, another court ruling showing how difficult it can be to get around the basic presumption that an employer generally can’t be sued for injuries otherwise covered by the state’s workers’ compensation system. This time, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia explains the type of “deliberate intent” that could be enough to overcome workers’ compensation immunity.

ambulance-1334532-mDotson was injured in an accident while driving a semi-tractor for Elite Oil, hauling containers of mud from oil and gas drilling operations to disposal sites. In August 2013, he was driving an empty trailer in Harrison County when the brakes overheated, began to smoke, and eventually caught on fire. Dotson’s supervisor – Mr. Hess – arranged for Dotson to be picked up and the trailer to be towed for necessary repairs. Instead of making those repairs, however, Dotson claims that Hess assigned the trailer to another driver. This second driver later reported that the trailer had transmission damage. The transmission was repaired, and the truck was returned to Dotson.

Shortly thereafter, Dotson was driving downhill when the trailer’s brakes gave out. The vehicle crashed into a ditch, and Dotson suffered a head injury and hip dislocation. He sued Elite Oil and Hess for damages, alleging that they weren’t shielded by West Virginia’s workers’ compensation laws because they acted with direct intent in causing his injuries. Dotson claimed that Hess “utilized deception in order to place [Dotson] on a very steep roadway with a very heavy load in a truck knowing that it had a faulty breaking system, which breaking system [Hess] intentionally failed to have evaluated and repaired.”

Dismissing the claim against Elite Oil, the District Court said Dotson didn’t sufficiently allege that the company acted with deliberate intent to kill or injure him. Although Elite Oil may very well have been negligent in its handling of the situation, the Court said this wasn’t enough to overcome its general immunity in cases that should otherwise proceed through the workers’ compensation system. In order to establish deliberate intent, the Court said he had to show that the company “acted with a consciously, subjectively and deliberately formed intention to produce the specific result of injury or death.”

As a result, the Court dismissed the claim against Elite Oil. It’s important to note that this decision has no bearing on whether Dotson is entitled to benefits for medical care and missed work under the workers’ compensation system. It also doesn’t affect Dotson’s separate claim against Hess.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident on the job, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia workplace injury lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

Suing Your Employer for Workplace Injuries? Read this First – Crigger v. Parsley Enterprises

West Virginia Workers’ Compensation and Preexisting Conditions – Steyer v. Alliance Coal

High Court Sides with West Virginia Worker in Toxic Exposure Case – Moore v. K-Mart