Lack of Intent, Certainty Evidence Binds Oil Worker to Exclusivity Law

09 Dec, 2020 Frank Ferreri


New Orleans, LA ( – While most workers’ compensation systems have an exclusive remedy provision built in, in some cases, employees can seek additional damages depending on the employer’s conduct leading to the injury; however, the bar is fairly high.

In a recent example, according to the court in Million v. Exxon Mobil Corporation, No. 20-30002 (5th Cir. 12/01/20, unpublished), an oil company worker couldn’t escape exclusivity despite an alleged series of safety lapses because there was no evidence of intent or certainty on the company’s part.

Negligent or Intentional?

The worker, who spent 40 years of his career in the chemical industry, was diagnosed with cancer and pulmonary embolisms. He sued the company, claiming that it exposed him to hazardous chemicals during his employment because it didn’t follow proper safety steps.

In response, the company argued that the state’s exclusive remedy rules under workers’ compensation law applied to prevent the worker from suing. Louisiana law, as in other states, provides that generally, workers’ compensation is an employee’s exclusive remedy against his employer for work-related injuries or illnesses.

However, there is an exception when the employee sues for an intentional tort. For this exception to apply in Louisiana, the employee must show the employer:

  1. “Conscientiously desired the physical result” that happened to the employee; or
  2. Knew the result was “substantially certain” to follow from the employer’s actions.

Alleged Safety Failings

In federal District Court, the worker came up short because the court determined that the company’s actions amounted to negligence, not an intentional tort. The worker appealed.

According to the worker, the company failed to:

  • Provide adequate safety gear to employees.
  • Ensure proper ventilation of work areas.
  • Properly train employees.
  • Follow applicable safety procedures.
  • Follow applicable safety regulations.

Looking at these allegations, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the lower court made the right call.

“We agree with the District Court that [the worker’s] allegations, even if accepted as true, amount to negligence, not intentional torts,” the 5th Circuit wrote. “Therefore, the District Court did not err in granting summary judgment on the grounds of … exclusivity.”

Thus, the worker was limited to workers’ compensation benefits as his exclusive remedy against the company for the alleged safety failings.

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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Frank encourages everyone to consider helping out the Kind Souls Foundation and Kids' Chance of America.

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