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Assault injuries are compensable but further claims barred: Court

Posted On: Nov. 25, 2020 11:11 AM CST

Washington Metro

Injuries a man suffered in an assault by a co-worker are compensable, but his tort lawsuit is barred by the Virginia Workers Compensation Act, an appellate court ruled Tuesday.

In Workagegnehu v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed a district court’s ruling that the Metro worker’s injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment, and dismissed his liability lawsuit against his employer.

Teshome Workagegnehu and Martin Van Buren were working at a Metro station kiosk when a customer approached them for help. Mr. Van Buren swore at the customer and sent him away, according to court documents. Mr. Workagegnehu volunteered to help the customer use the SparTrip vending machine, which he was tasked with maintaining that day.

Mr. Van Buren told him it was not Mr. Workagegnehu’s responsibility to help customers. After a brief verbal exchange, Mr. Van Buren punched his co-worker and continued to do so until Mr. Workagegnehu was unconscious. Police arrived, and Mr. Van Buren was arrested and later convicted of assault.

Mr. Workagegnehu required hospitalization for his injuries and filed for workers compensation benefits, which were denied. He then filed a complaint against the Metro and his general manager for assault and battery as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The two parties stipulated to a workers compensation order, but Mr. Workagegnehu’s complaint against Metro and his general manager was dismissed by a district court, which found that the Virginia Workers Compensation Act barred his claim because his injury arose out of his employment. Mr. Workagegnehu appealed.

The appellate court affirmed the district court’s ruling dismissing the case.

The court noted that Mr. Van Buren directed his assault at Mr. Workagegnehu as an employee, not out of personal motivation, making his claim compensable under the comp act. The fact that Mr. Workagegnehu had already agreed to workers compensation and stipulated that his injuries arose from a work-related incident “reinforces our conclusion,” the appellate court said.