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Workers' Compensation

Employers face a steep burden to prove an employee’s “willful intent to injure”

Employers face a steep burden to prove an employee’s “willful intent to injure”

Workers Compensation Defenses Available to Employers

Louisiana Revised Statute 23:1081 includes a list of various defenses available to an employer faced with an injured employee. The first defense provides that “No compensation shall be allowed for an injury caused… by the injured employee’s willful intention to injure himself.”

Must Prove Intent to Self-Injure by Preponderance of the Evidence

Recent Louisiana cases have confirmed that an employer seeking to avail itself of this workers compensation defense must submit proof that meets the “preponderance of the evidence standard.” Further, a review of the case law confirms that employers seeking to avail themselves of this defense must have strong proof as it is difficult to convince a court that an employee intentionally harmed himself, for the purposes of obtaining worker’s compensation benefits.

In Ashworth v. Big Easy Foods of Louisiana, the Court found, and the appellate court agreed, that the employer failed to meet that standard. Plaintiff partially severed his finger while cleaning a meat grinder. Extensive testimony was heard from witnesses that the claimant was motivated to injure himself because he was financially stressed and was aware that another employee received a settlement from a similar injury. The claimant’s co-workers testified that he behaved strangely on the date of the accident and admitted that he “did it”. The claimant testified that at the time of his injury he was cleaning the grinder as he was instructed to do and that he was not aware that the grinder was spinning. The claimant’s supervisor supported the claimant’s contention that he was required to clean the grinders using his bare hands.

In a similar case, Phillips v. Sanderson Farms, Inc., plaintiff partially amputated his finger while cleaning a machine. Prior to the cleaning, the claimant did not “lock and tag out” the machine which was in clear violation of safety policies of which the claimant was aware. The court found that the record showed that the claimant put his hand into the machine to remove a piece of chicken stuck inside and that he was unaware that the blades would move once he placed his hand inside. The court sated “his actions are consistent with a classic negligence action.” The court also noted that the employer could not terminate the claimant for a safety violation that was the cause of the injury and refuse to pay worker’s compensation benefits as the statutory protection provided to employees by the Worker’s Compensation Act supersedes company safety policies.

Allen & Gooch is providing this legal update for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion as to any specific facts or circumstances. You should consult your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you may have.