Massachusetts Court Discusses Co-Worker Immunity in Workers’ Compensation Cases

Pursuant to the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) people injured in catastrophic accidents at work have the right to pursue workers’ compensation benefits from their employers. In exchange for that right, though, they waive the right to pursue negligence claims against their employers for work-related harm. Further, the same provisions of the Act that provide employers with immunity provide protections for co-workers of the injured employee. This means, as discussed in a recent Massachusetts case, that co-employee’s generally cannot be held liable for harm sustained in a work accident allegedly caused by their negligence. If you were hurt in a work incident, it is smart to speak to a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney about what claims you may be able to pursue.

Factual History and Procedural Setting

It is alleged that the plaintiff, an employee of a packing company, was severely injured when an accident occurred while he was repairing a backhoe truck tire. The plaintiff sustained permanent injuries when the tire exploded. The plaintiff and his wife eventually settled the workers’ compensation claim against the employer for $750,000. However, they pursued negligence claims against the defendant, a co-employee of the injured plaintiff.

It is reported that the defendant, the vice-president of operations at Shield, was involved in purchasing the backhoe truck and instructing the plaintiff to repair it at the time of the accident. The defendant moved for summary judgment, aguing he had co-employee immunity under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The court granted the motion and the plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the defendant’s negligence occurred before he and the injured plaintiff became co-employees and thus, co-employee immunity should not apply. Additionally, they sought to add a claim for loss of consortium, which was denied by the court.

Co-Employee Immunity Under the Workers’ Compensation Act

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court ruling. In doing so, the court explained that co-employee immunity under the Workers’ Compensation Act shields employees from tort liability for injuries sustained by a fellow employee in the course of employment.

In the subject case, the court reasoned that the defendant’s actions, including providing the backhoe for use at the employer’s worksite and instructing the plaintiff to repair it, were significantly related to his employment and furthered the employer’s interests. Therefore, the defendant acted within the course of employment at the time of the accident, making him immune from tort liability under the Act.

The court also denied the plaintiffs’ motion to amend the complaint to add a claim for loss of consortium, citing the Act’s exclusivity provision that bars loss of consortium claims for injuries covered by workers’ compensation. Since the plaintiff’s injury was compensable under the Act, the court concluded that a loss of consortium claim was not compensable either.

Meet with a Trusted Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Attorney

People hurt at work can often recover workers’ compensation benefits but generally cannot pursue claims against their employers or co-workers. If you were hurt while at work, it is in your best interest to meet with an attorney to determine your options. Attorney James K. Meehan is a trusted Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer who can inform you of your rights and help you to pursue a favorable result. To reach Attorney Meehan, you can use our form online or call him at 508-822-6600 to arrange a confidential meeting.