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Teacher hurt in student fight limited to comp benefits

Posted On: May. 26, 2017 1:13 PM CST

A high school teacher injured while breaking up a fight between students may not sue the school district where he worked for negligence because workers compensation was his exclusive remedy, a federal court ruled Thursday.

John Ekblad was a physical science teacher at Central Senior High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, and he also served as lunchroom supervisor for additional compensation. Among his responsibilities as a lunchroom supervisor were monitoring students, maintaining order and intervening to break up fights if he could do so safely. He was not required to break up fights and could not be disciplined for failing to do so, court records in John Ekblad vs. Independent School District show.

On Dec. 4, 2015, Mr. Ekblad intervened in a fight between two students and was injured. Mr. Ekblad received workers comp benefits, including disability and vocational rehabilitation benefits, and the school district has paid and continues to pay his medical bills, according to court documents.

In March 2016, Mr. Ekblad sued the school district, alleging negligence and negligent supervision because the district failed to protect him despite being aware of safety concerns at the school. The district asked the court for summary judgement, saying Mr. Ekblad’s negligence claims are pre-empted by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act. The court agreed.

The court noted there are three exceptions to Minnesota’s workers comp exclusive remedy provision, including an assault exception, an intentional act exception and a co-employee liability exception.

“Ekblad has failed to establish that any of these exceptions apply in this case,” District Judge David S. Doty said in his ruling.

The assault exception covers injuries inflicted for personal reasons. During the altercation, the student made a reference to Mr. Ekblad’s race, which he argued qualifies as a personal reason. However, the court found that racial animosity is insufficient to establish a personal connection necessary to invoke this exclusion.

The intentional act exception precludes workers comp coverage when the employer acted in such a way as to intend to inflict injury on an employee. Mr. Ekblad argued that the district’s policies regarding student discipline and school safety were misguided, not followed or both, which led to his injuries. The court found that even if the district’s policies were substandard or ineffective, that did not establish a conscious and deliberate intent to inflict injury.

The co-employee liability exception applies when an injury arises from the negligence of a co-employee. Mr. Ekblad argued that the district superintendent and assistant superintendent were obligated to maintain a safe workplace. However, the court ruled that the duty to provide a safe workplace is a non-delegable duty held by the employer as part of workers comp law and therefore does not apply in this case.

Mr. Ekblad further argued that his unsafe workplace violated his rights to substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. To prove such a claim, the claimant must demonstrate that the defendants’ actions were severe, inspired by malice or sadism that is shocking to the contemporary conscience, and not simply a careless act.

“The circumstances presented, while certainly unfortunate, do not meet this standard,” the ruling said.

The case was dismissed with prejudice.