A worker who is injured on the job in West Virginia is generally entitled to workers’ compensation benefits to cover medical expenses and missed wages. Workers usually can’t sue their employers for negligence or other claims based on workplace mishaps, however, unless they can prove that the employer acted with what the law calls “deliberate intent.” That’s because lawmakers want these disputes to be resolved via the workers’ compensation system. As the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia recently explained, workers’ compensation immunity also extends to managers and supervisors who may be to blame for an accident.
Ms. Grose was working as a “head tapper” at a manufacturing facility in Alloy, West Virginia, when she was injured in an accident on the job. She was performing her duties when the floor above a furnace collapsed, leaving her stuck just above “900-3200 Fahrenheit molten material,” according to Grose, and causing her to suffer “severe and permanent” injuries. Grose later sued the facility’s operator, as well as supervisor David Mallow, for negligence and deliberate intent. She alleged that she had warned Mallow prior to the accident that the flooring was in bad shape but said the company failed to take action to make the area safe.
Mallow asked the District Court to dismiss the claims against him, arguing that he was immune from suit under the West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act. The District Court agreed. It cited the State Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Young v. Apogee Coal Co., in which the high court held that the workers’ compensation immunity exemption for deliberate intent only applies to claims against employers. Mallow was a supervisor, not an employer, according to the District Court. “Here, plaintiff alleges in Count 1 that Mallow acted with ‘deliberate intention’ when he ‘intentionally and knowingly exposed her to . . . unsafe working conditions,’” the Court observed. “Even if true, such a claim will only strip Mallow of the immunity conferred by the Act if he is an ‘employer.’”