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Teacher assaulted by student gets workers’ comp; can he sue, too?

A teacher injured when he broke up a fight between two students sued his employer for negligence even though he received workers’ comp benefits. Did a court allow the lawsuit? 

When a fight broke out between two students in a school cafeteria, teacher and lunchroom supervisor John Ekblad intervened and was seriously injured by one of the students.

Ekblad received workers’ compensation benefits, including disability payments and vocational rehabilitation benefits. The school district also paid his medical bills.

The teacher filed a lawsuit against the school district alleging negligence. Specifically, Ekblad claimed the school district failed to protect him despite knowing there were serious safety concerns at the high school.

The school district asked the court to throw out the lawsuit because it was preempted by the Minnesota workers’ compensation law.

Ekblad argued these three exceptions to the workers’ comp law applied in his case:

  • The assault exception excludes from workers’ comp coverage any injury inflicted to the employee because of personal reasons. Ekblad said the student’s assault on him was for racial reasons. But the court ruled racial animosity would be insufficient to establish a personal connection in this case.
  • The intentional act exception bars workers’ comp coverage when the employer harbored a “conscious and deliberate intent directed to the purpose of inflicting an injury.” Ekblad, who was on the school’s safety team, produced a detailed analysis about why the school district’s policies regarding student discipline were misguided and ultimately led to his injuries. But the court ruled the district’s policies, even if they were ineffective, didn’t establish that it consciously and deliberately intended to injure him.
  • The co-employee liability exception applies where an employee has a personal duty to another employee, “the breach of which resulted in the employee’s injury, and the activity causing the injury was not part of the co-employee’s general administrative responsibilities.” Ekblad also sued the superintendent and assistant superintendent, arguing the co-employee exception should apply because the two administrators were obligated to maintain a safe workplace. But the court found the duty to provide a safe workplace can’t be delegated from the employer to an employee.

For those reasons, the court ruled Ekblad’s lawsuit against the district should be thrown out. Workers’ comp would be his exclusive remedy.

(John Ekblad v. Independent School District No. 625U.S. Dist. Crt. Dist. of MN, No. 16-834, 5/25/17)

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