Tennessee’s workers’ compensation law is the exclusive remedy for workers injured on the job (Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-108, found here).  But, whether someone is in the course and scope of employment when injured isn’t always clear cut.  More so, what if the injury is caused by a coworker?  In a recent case, decided by the Tennessee Court of Appeals (ruling here), an injury victim, who applied for and accepted workers’ compensation benefits, brought a separate lawsuit against his coworker claiming he was not in the scope of employment at the time of the injury.

The plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle driven by a coworker when they got into an accident.  The injury victim applied for (and received) workers’ compensation benefits claiming he was in the course and scope of employment at the time of the accident.  He then sued his coworker for negligence claiming that he and his coworker were not in the course and scope of their employment.

The lawyer for the coworker filed a motion for summary judgment basically stating the plaintiff was barred from bringing the lawsuit, because when he applied for workers’ compensation benefits he admitted he was injured in the course and scope of his employment.   And, Tennessee’s workers’ compensation law is the exclusive remedy for workers injured on the job (Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-108, found here).  The trial court agreed with the defendant and granted his motion for summary judgment.

Tennessee law allows an employee to sue a non-coworker third party in tort for injuries caused to the employee while on the job.  In that case, the employer is entitled to be paid back some or all it has paid (subrogation) from the injured employee’s settlement or judgment.  However, in this case, the Court ruled that an employee doesn’t have a right to sue a coworker for injuries that occurred on the job, because the employer is vicariously liable for the actions of its employees.  So, the only way a lawsuit could be brought against the coworker would be if the injury occurred outside the course and scope of both parties’ employment.  The Court ruled applying for and receiving workers’ compensation benefits (while “admitting” he was injured on the job), negated an essential element of plaintiff’s tort action.

In the end, having actually received the workers’ compensation benefits, while “unabashedly” arguing he was simultaneously both in and out of the scope of employment, doomed this case.   If you’re seriously injured by the actions of a third party or a coworker while on the job, or if your just unsure if you were in the course and scope of employment when your injury occurred, it’s always worth a call to Weir & Kestner.  We can help.

*This article/blog post is a case summary made for advertising purposes only.  It may not represent all the legal aspects involved in this particular case, and should not be construed as official legal advice or legal opinion as it relates to your specific legal situation.