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Workers compensation is the exclusive remedy for prisoners injured while working on prison jobs, according to the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

Percell Richardson, an inmate at the Caledonia Correctional Institution, was operating a tractor with an attached silage harvesting machine at the prison farm. The farm superintendent directed Mr. Richardson to operate the harvester. During the operation, Mr. Richardson's legs were caught in the silage cutter. His right leg needed to be amputated below the knee. His left leg was permanently and severely injured.

Mr. Richardson filed a claim against the Department of Correction with the State Industrial Commission, alleging negligence due to inadequate training and supervision. The Department of Correction asked the court to dismiss the claim on the ground that workers comp was his exclusive remedy. The trial court ruled for the department.

On appeal, Mr. Richardson argued, in part, that the limitation of prisoners to workers comp as their exclusive remedy constituted a violation of the right to equal protection under both the federal and state constitutions. However, the court concluded that the limitation met constitutional scrutiny because there was a rational basis for the limitation. According to the court, numerous legitimate state interests were rationally addressed by the exclusive remedy effect of the law, including suspending compensation to prisoners during incarceration because their needs are met by the state and limiting the liability of the state in the same way as that of private employers by tying compensation to wages. The trial court decision was affirmed.

Richardson vs. North Carolina Department of Correction, Supreme Court of North Carolina, Dec. 6, 1996 (BI/01/July.-$10).

Court bars coverage of assault

An intentional-act exclusion in an employers liability insurance policy bars coverage of an employer's assault on his employee, according to the Supreme Court of Iowa.

At issue in this case was whether the employer's mental state deprived him of the ability to intend the assault he perpetrated. Allied Mutual Insurance Co. and AMCO Insurance Co. provided employers liability insurance coverage to William L. Costello and his business, Costello Insurance Agency Inc. The policies contained an exclusion for "bodily injury intentionally caused or aggravated by you (the insured)."

In March 1994, Mr. Costello assaulted his secretary at his business office, causing her severe injuries. The assault occurred after Mr. Costello lost his temper during a dispute with her. He was charged and found guilty of assault. Thereafter, the secretary sued Mr. Costello for damages resulting from the assault. One of the insurers brought this action, seeking a declaration from the court that it did not have a duty to defend him because of the intentional-act exclusion. The trial court found Mr. Costello did not intend to cause injuries to his secretary and that the exclusion did not apply. The insurer appealed.

The appellate court concluded that Mr. Costello was not mentally ill, only that he experienced difficulty controlling his temper. "His assault could scarcely be considered rational, but it does not follow that it was unintentional."

The appellate court was not persuaded that the anger caused a lack of understanding on his part. Thus, the court said the intentional-act exclusion applied and the policy did not provide coverage here. The trial judgment was reversed.

Allied Mutual Ins. Co. vs. Costello, Supreme Court of Iowa, Dec. 18, 1996. Rehearing denied Jan. 23, 1997 (BI/05/July.- $10).