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Mems v. Labruyere: Co-Employee Liability

Obtaining recovery for an injury doesn’t necessarily mean recovery from only one party. Most people are aware that if you are injured at work, regardless of whether your employer was or was not negligent, you are likely covered under Worker’s Compensation and may be able to file a claim for temporary or even permanent disability. That may not be the only avenue for recovery, however. In certain situations, you might also be entitled to bring a claim against another employee you work with, if he or she caused your injury.

In Missouri, the employer has a non-delegable duty to the employees to provide a safe workplace. This means if an employee is injured at work, the liability falls to the employer and not a co-employee. As with most rules, there are exceptions.

Take the case of Mems v. Labruyere.  In that case, both Mems and LaBruyere were employed by a company hired to provide some renovations to the St. Louis Convention Center. The two co-employees were given the task of removing an overhead roller door that hung above a concession window. During the removal process, LaBruyere loosened several bolts and pried the door loose from the wall anchors. As LaBruyere did so, Mems stood beneath the roller door assembly. Arguably, as a result of LaBruyer’s actions, the heavy door suddenly detached and hit Mems in the chest causing him to fall to the floor and a hook attached to the door impaled Mems in the leg. Mems recovered a sum of money as a result of his worker’s compensation claim with the Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation and then brought suit against his co-worker, LaBruyere, for the same injuries.

The progression of case law governing co-employee liability begins with the enactment of worker’s compensation laws in 1926. As case law has developed over the years, the workers’ compensation Act has been interpreted and applied so that a co-employee’s liability has greatly varied. Most recently, in 2012, the Missouri Legislature amended the Act to make clear their intent to grant statutory immunity to co-employees for liability resulting from work-related injuries. The Act now states that a co-employee is not liable for any injury for which recovery is available under the worker’s compensation Act. The exception to this rule arises when the injury is a result of the co-employee’s “affirmative negligent act that purposefully and dangerously caused or increased the risk of injury.” RSMo § 287.120.1.

Initially, the trial court in Mems case granted summary judgment in favor of LaBruyere. However, the Eastern District Appellate Court reversed that decision. Ultimately, the appellate court held that the trial court had misapplied the law. As a result, Mems was able to recover under the worker’s compensation laws and, in addition, bring a direct claim for negligence against LaBruyere, his co-employer, for the personal injuries he sustained.

Many people attempt to navigate the pursuit of a personal injury claim without a lawyer. Without a skilled and knowledgeable attorney in your corner, you may miss out on other ways you can obtain recovery for your injuries. Even in an automobile collision or a slip and fall, your ability to obtain compensation may not be limited to one entity or individual. Consult with an attorney to make sure you explore all avenues for recovery.