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Exclusive remedy does not apply in death of worker during robbery: Appeals court


Exclusive remedy provisions do not apply in the death of a Georgia man who was killed during a robbery at a convenience store that was affiliated with his employer, the Georgia Court of Appeals said last week.

Melvin Sallet worked as a loader operator for Dixie Roadbuilders Inc., a Waycross, Ga.-based construction contractor. In October 2005, he left work and drove to Dixie Express, a convenience store that was used by Dixie Roadbuilders to refuel its trucks and purportedly shared business ties with the contractor, court records show.

Mr. Sallet was shot and killed when a robbery took place at Dixie Express. Dixie Roadbuilders voluntarily filed a workers compensation claim to cover Mr. Sallet's funeral expenses.

Mr. Sallet's adult children and his estate filed a wrongful death suit against Dixie Roadbuilders and Alton C. Walker Jr., the president and co-owner of Dixie Roadbuilder. Mr. Walker claimed in sworn statements to be an owner/operator of Dixie Express, though business records do not show ties between Dixie Express and Dixie Roadbuilders.

Dixie Roadbuilders sought a dismissal of the suit based on exclusive remedy provisions. The employer claimed that Mr. Sallet's death happened during the workday and that he was on the company's property while shopping at Dixie Express. However, Mr. Sallet's family claimed he had left work early and that his death happened outside of his employment.

In a unanimous decision Friday, a three-judge panel of the Georgia appellate court said that Mr. Sallet's death did not arise out of and in the course of his employment, even if Dixie Express had ties to his employer.

"Sallet did not stay on his work premises during his break, and there is no evidence that he was at the convenience store in furtherance of Dixie Roadbuilders' business. As such, the break resembled a personal pursuit, even though it was unscheduled," the opinion reads.


Dixie Roadbuilders also argued exclusive remedy provisions should apply since Mr. Sallet's family accepted comp benefits for his funeral expenses. However, the appellate court said comp benefits provided "voluntarily" by an employer do not preclude tort claims against the employer by the claimant.

The appellate court also declined to dismiss the Sallet family's case against Mr. Walker. It said that Mr. Walker potentially could be held liable for Mr. Sallet's death, because he testified to being an owner of Dixie Express.

“Although Walker now disputes the accuracy of those statements, his credibility on this point is a question for the factfinder, not an issue for this court to resolve on summary judgment,” the ruling reads.

The appellate court's ruling will allow the Sallet family's lawsuit to continue in Georgia's Ware County State Court.

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