(Cheyenne, Wyo.) — This week, the Wyoming State Supreme Court issued a ruling that states that in some specific cases, emotional damages to family from workplace deaths may be business owners' responsibility. If an employee is killed on a job site and the event is witnessed by family, emotional damages may not be covered by Wyoming worker's compensation fund, according to the Feb. 9 decision delivered Justice Kate Fox of the Wyoming State Supreme Court in Charley Collins v. COP Wyoming, LLC, et al. On Aug. 20, 2012, Sheridan County resident Brett Collins was killed on a job site in Sheridan County, and the incident was witnessed by his father, Charley Collins. Though Brett Collins' estate received worker’s compensation benefits as a result of his death, Charley Collins made a claim for emotional injury based upon a duty to him that is "independent of the covered death of his son, Brett Collins, and it is not barred by worker’s compensation immunity," an attorney's summary of the Court's action stated. The Court's decision means that in particular cases, the employer and/or co-empolyees may be held liable for family damages, which the Sheridan County District Court had denied, citing worker's compensation immunity. Read previous reports here.
At issue was if the father’s tort claim for negligent infliction of
emotional distress was barred by the Wyoming Worker’s Compensation Act, and
the Court found that it was not.
Citing extensive case law, the Supreme Court noted that in 1994, "the
legislature amended the definition of injury to exclude “[a]ny mental
injury unless it is caused by a compensable physical injury[.]” The Court
adhered to the rule that mental injuries not caused by a compensable
physical injury are not compensable by worker’s compensation.
Charley Collins argued his case was distinguishable from others for two
- First, unlike the parents in previous cases, Charley was at the scene
of the accident and he falls into the class of familial plaintiffs who can
recover for negligent infliction of emotional distress, and
- Second, Charley, as an employee of COP Wyoming, suffered his own
independent injury during the scope and course of his employment, and is in
a different position than those in previous cases, who were not employees.
"Charley does not attempt to bring an action for the death of his son;
rather, he alleges that COP Wyoming and Mr. Ross breached a duty of care to
him, separate from the duty they had to Brett," the Court opinion states.
"Charley alleges that he has suffered an injury separate and distinct from
his son’s death. It is an injury which is outside of the 'grand bargain'
because worker’s compensation provides no remedy for it, and he should be
permitted to go forward to try to establish his claim."
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