What Do You Think: Could Auto Detailer Sue Employer over Coworkers’ Violent Attack?

25 Feb, 2024 Chris Parker


Fort Washington, PA (WorkersCompensation.com) -- “It’s not business; it’s strictly personal.” That’s one way of explaining the “personal animus” exception in Pennsylvania–while doing violence to a famous movie quote. When the exception applies, the employee may sue his employer for negligence, even if his injuries would have otherwise fallen under the workers’ compensation act.

One case illustrates the importance of detail when asserting the “personal animus” exception. In that case, an automobile detailer was working when two other employees allegedly attacked him. According to his negligence case against the company, the coworkers had a history of behavioral problems and poor anger management. They had destroyed property and used derogatory racial and ethnic terms in the past, according to the lawsuit.

The detailer argued that his employer was negligent in placing the workers in his vicinity and in failing to timely intervene to stop the attack when it was happening. As a result, the detailer alleged, he sustained serious injuries.

The employer asked the court to throw out the case. It pointed out that the WCA’s exclusivity provision applied. As a result, workers’ compensation was the detailer’s only avenue of seeking relief.

The detailer, in turn, argued that the exclusivity provision did not apply because the attack was purely personal.

The court explained that when an injury is covered by the WCA, workers' compensation is the employee's sole remedy against his employer. The employee may not sue for negligence.

There is an exception, however: the WCA excludes from its coverage injuries intentionally inflicted by third-parties for personal reasons that are unrelated to the employee's employment. Such an injury does not arise in the course of employment if it is not directed against the worker as an employee or because of his employment.

Could the detailer sue company for negligence?
A. Yes. It was up to the employer to prove that the attack was not personal.
B. No. He didn’t explain his coworkers’ motivations for the attack.

If you selected B, you agreed with the court in Ferreria v. West German Motor Imports, No. 744 EDA 2023 (Pa. Super. Ct. 02/15/24), which held that the detailer failed to point to any facts showing the attack was personal.

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If the employee was acting in the course of his employment when the injury occurred, the injury was presumed to be work-related, the court stated. The employee then had the burden to show that the attack was motivated by personal animus and therefore not covered by the WCA.

The court acknowledged that the employee asserted that he sustained physical injuries, emotional injuries, and financial damages, and that his coworkers had a propensity for fighting and violence.

“However, [the detailer] did not plead any facts asserting that the attack was motivated by personal animosity that was unrelated to his employment. As such, [he] failed to satisfy the personal animus exception to the exclusivity of the WCA,” the court wrote.

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