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Illinois workers’ compensation: Harm from workplace violence

Unfortunately, workplace violence is a reality of modern American life. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), it ranks as the third-leading cause of work-related deaths here in the United States. But what are the legal remedies for injury or death from violence on the job such as from an assault or a shooting?

Injuries can range from minor to severe to deadly depending on the circumstances of the assault. In any such situation, the victim or the surviving family members of a victim may apply for workers’ compensation benefits to assist with the financial and medical impact an act of workplace violence creates.

Exclusive remedy

While it may not be intuitive, with narrow exception, workers’ compensation is normally the exclusive, only legal remedy for accidental employment-related injury or death, regardless of who was at fault for the harm. An Illinois case called Rodriguez v. Frankie’s Beef/Pasta and Catering explains the applicable state law in this circumstance.

In this case, the estate of Alma Rodriguez, a restaurant employee who died after a coworker shot him at work after they had allegedly argued about a fry cook position, sued the employer for negligent hiring and retention of the aggressor.

The trial court held, and the appeals court agreed, that the estate could not sue the employer for negligence in the shooting because under Illinois workers’ compensation law, the exclusive legal remedy for any accidental injury that arises out of and in the course of employment is a workers’ compensation claim. Suing the employer directly is not available to the victim (or to their estate in the case of death) because workers’ compensation is normally the exclusive remedy, not allowing a separate lawsuit against the employer based on other laws such as the Illinois negligence suit brought here.

How is a shooting aimed at the worker accidental?

The appeals court explained that an Illinois employee may not sue their employer directly unless they can prove that the injury (or death) was any of these:

  • It was not accidental.
  • It did not arise from employment.
  • It was not received in the course of employment.
  • Workers’ compensation does not compensate for the harm.

The Illinois Supreme Court defined “accidental” in this context as “anything that happens without design or an event which is unforeseen by the person to whom it happens.” So even though the shooting was intentional, it was still an accident for workers’ compensation purposes because neither the victim-employee nor the employer anticipated it happening (unless the employer had told the co-worker to hurt the victim or authorized the shooting).

This only introduces a sometimes-complex area of Illinois workers’ compensation law. An attorney can answer questions about legal issues related to injuries or death from workplace violence.