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Missouri workers comp law bars negligence lawsuit against co-worker: Court

Missouri workers comp law bars negligence lawsuit against co-worker: Court

A construction worker can't file a negligence action against his supervisor despite the fact that the exclusive remedy provisions of Missouri's workers compensation law didn't cover co-workers at the time he was injured, a divided Missouri Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

Curt Peters was working for St. Louis-based Tramar Contracting Inc. in September 2008, unloading a stack of dowel baskets manufactured by Maquoketa, Iowa-based Wady Industries Inc., when the baskets fell out of the truck and crushed him, according to Tuesday's appellate ruling. Mr. Peters sustained “permanent and catastrophic injuries.”

Mr. Peters and his wife, Cheri Peters, filed a negligence action in Circuit Court of St. Charles County against his supervisor, Patrick Terrio, and Wady Industries, according to records. Mr. Peters alleged that the baskets were stacked in an unsafe manner and that, prior to the accident, Mr. Terrio had received multiple warnings about safety hazards regarding the stacked baskets, records show.

According to records, Mr. Peters also alleged that Mr. Terrio “allowed the baskets to be transported on a flatbed truck while stacked at a level that exceeded a safe height,” and that Mr. Terrio “failed to insure that the baskets were properly braced or secured for transportation and unloading.”

Prior to 2005, the exclusive remedy provisions of Missouri's workers comp law were “interpreted to shield employees from liability to co-workers except for affirmative acts beyond normal job duties,” according to records. However, a 2005 amendment re-defined the word “employer,” which appears in the state's exclusivity clause, so it's not interpreted to include a claimant's co-workers, records show.

Mr. Terrio filed a motion to dismiss the civil suit, saying it failed to allege any conduct that fell outside Tramar Contracting's duties to provide a safe workplace for Mr. Peters, records show. The trial court agreed and granted Mr. Terrio's motion to dismiss the petition.

Mr. and Mrs. Peters appealed, saying Mr. Terrio “engaged in affirmative negligent conduct in breach of a duty independent of Tramar's non-delegable duty to provide a safe workplace,” records show.

On Tuesday, Missouri's Eastern District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision to dismiss Mr. and Mrs. Peters' petition.

“An employee owes no personal duty to co-workers to perform the employer's nondelegable duties because those duties necessarily derive from the master-servant relationship,” the ruling states. “The duty to make the workplace safe from known dangers is a nondelegable duty owed by the employer, not co-employees.”

The dissenting opinion, written by Judge Glenn A. Norton, states that because the majority opinion is not in line with the Western District appellate court's decision in a similar case, Leeper v. Asmus, this case should be transferred to the Missouri Supreme Court.

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