The Nebraska Supreme Court Upholds the Exclusive Remedy Doctrine of the Workers’ Compensation Act in a Case Where an Employer Willfully Violated Multiple OSHA Safety Violations, Thus Causing the Tragic Death of One of its Employees.
On May, 31, 2013, in Estate of Teague v. Crossroads Co-Op Assn, 286 Neb. 1 (2013), the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the exclusive remedy doctrine of the Workers’ Compensation Act in a case that probably had the best facts possible for an employee (or his or her estate) to avoid the application of the exclusive remedy doctrine.
In Teague, the employee died of asphyxiation after being engulfed in a grain bin. A subsequent investigation into the accident revealed that the employer was in violation of multiple Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. Instead of seeking compensation under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act, the employee’s estate brought tort actions against the employer in district court for wrongful death, assault, battery, and a declaratory judgment that either the Act did not apply or, alternatively, that it was unconstitutional on its face as applied. The district court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim because Nebraska case law had held that an employer’s knowing misrepresentation concerning the hazards of the job did not take the employer’s conduct outside the exclusivity of the Act.
On appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal. The Court held that despite the egregiousness of the employer’s conduct, the injury was still considered an “accident” under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Ultimately, the Court declined to reexamine prior case law and adopt an intentional tort exception to the Workers’ Compensation Act. The Court also found no merit in the estate’s argument that the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act classifications violated the equal protection, due process, and special legislation provisions of the U.S. and Nebraska Constitutions.
This case is a good reminder for employers who encounter the issue of whether an employee’s exclusive remedy is the Workers’ Compensation Act. In its opinion, the Court signaled that it was wary of providing any exceptions to the exclusive remedy doctrine of the Workers’ Compensation Act. The Court stated, “one may understand the urge to chip away at the exclusiveness barrier in some of the more egregious cases of employer negligence, but ‘experience has shown that, once a breach is made in that dam to accommodate an appealing case, it will be very difficult for the courts to know where to draw the line.’”
For more information regarding the exclusive remedy doctrine under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act, please contact Robert Seybert at firstname.lastname@example.org or (402) 475-1075.