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Assault Exception Applies to Attack on Hotel Cleaner

07 Apr, 2023 Chris Parker

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Minneapolis, MN (WorkersCompensation.com) – In Minnesota, an employer may not be liable for injuries arising from a third party’s assault on a worker -- as long as the third party assaults the victim for personal reasons that having nothing to do with work and intends to injure him for personal reasons.

As one case illustrates, the third party’s mental illness will not necessarily remove the case from the assault exception. In Profit v. HRT Holdings, No. 22-35240 (Minn. 03/29/23), a Doubletree Hotel room cleaner was working when a man he knew came to the hotel and attacked and severely injured him with a sharpened military-style entrenching tool. He and the attacker had been friends on social media and had once worked together for another employer.

After the attack, a doctor diagnosed the attacker with symptomatic schizoaffective disorder and deemed him incompetent to stand trial. The doctor opined that at the time of the attack, the attacker "was laboring under such a defect of reason as not to know the nature of the act constituting the offense or that it was wrong because of mental illness.”

The cleaner sought and was denied workers’ compensation benefits, based on the WCA’s assault exception. The Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals affirmed that decision.

In reviewing the worker’s appeal of that decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court explained that workers’ compensation benefits are awarded in the case of a personal injury arising out of and in the course of employment.

However, the court added, “personal injury,” within the meaning of the state’s workers’ compensation act, does not include an injury caused by the act of a third person or fellow employee which is:

  • Intended to injure the employee because of personal reasons; and
  • Not directed against the employee as an employee, or because of the employment.

Thus, where the assailant was motivated by personal animosity toward his victim, arising from circumstances wholly unconnected with the victim’s employment, workers’ compensation benefits are unavailable for the resulting injuries.

In this case, the court observed, the attacker, plagued by paranoia, believed the cleaner was involved in killing his uncle (the uncle in fact died from a heart ailment).

The fact that the attacker was driven by a delusion arising from mental illness, the court stated, did not change the fact that he intended to injure the worker for personal reasons.

Further, although the attack occurred at work while the employee was cleaning a room in the hotel, the assault had nothing to do with the cleaner’s employment.

The court rejected the victim’s contention that an assailant declared incompetent to stand trial following an assault cannot be found to have formed the intent necessary under the assault exception.

“The assault exception does not require a specific level of rationality, but rather the assailant must consciously and deliberately act to injure the employee for personal reasons,” the court wrote.

Because the attacker assaulted the cleaner for personal reasons, and not because of the cleaner’s status as a hotel employee or his employment, the case fell squarely with the assault exception in the WCA, the court held.

The court affirmed the Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals’ denial of benefits.

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