Simoneaux v. Excel Group, 06-1050 (La. 9/1/06).
(See also, Marino v. Martin’s Oil Country Tubular, Inc., 06-0898, 931 So.2d 1089 (La. 6/23/06), in which the Louisiana Supreme Court summarily reversed a trial court’s denial of an employer’s Motion for Summary Judgment on this issue citing the same legal principles discussed below but omitting any summary of the facts of that particular case).
Unless an employee’s injury was an “inevitable consequence” of an employer’s actions, the intentional act exception does not apply, and the employee’s exclusive remedy is workers’ compensation.
Daniel Simoneaux was employed as an electrician’s helper by Excel Group. Simoneaux, along with other employees, was installing a conduit at the Dow Chemical Plant in Plaquemine, Louisiana. At the same time, another Excel employee, Bruce Lejeune, was working alone in the basket of an aerial manlift approximately twenty-five feet off of the ground. As Simoneaux bent down to pick up a tool, the right front tire of the manlift rolled over his left foot.
Simoneaux filed an intentional tort claim against Excel Group and Lejeune. In support of his claim, Simoneaux produced an expert’s opinion that Lejeune was operating the manlift in an unsafe manner because he was operating it without a spotter and with the boom extended, which made it impossible for Lejeune to see where he was going. Given the congestion in the area, the noise level in the area, operating the manlift with no visibility made the accident “substantially certain” to happen. Excel Group and Lejeune denied that they knew or were substantially certain that an accident would occur and, therefore, argued that they were not liable to for tort damages.
The Decisions of the Lower Courts
The trial court denied the Excel Group and Lejeune’s for Summary Judgment, finding that a genuine factual issue existed as to whether Lejeune committed an intentional tort. The appellate court denied Excel Group and Lejeune’s application for review, thereby tacitly affirming the trial court ruling.
The Supreme Court reversed the lower courts and granted the summary judgment. The court reiterated its prior holdings that “substantially certain” means “inevitable” or “incapable of failing.” The court noted that “[b]elieving that someone may, or even probably will, eventually get hurt if a workplace practice is continued does not rise to the level of an intentional act, but instead falls within the range of negligent acts that are covered by workers’ compensation.” Even accepting Simoneaux’s allegations that the workplace was congested, noisy and that Lejeune operated the manlift improperly, Simoneax’s injury was not an inevitable consequence of those actions. The actions may have been negligent or even grossly negligent, but they were not intentional.