HeplerBroom attorney David J. Deterding recently authored an article
HeplerBroom attorney David J. Deterding recently authored an article for the MODL Summer 2012 Newsletter regarding the Missouri Workers' Compensation Exclusivity Doctrine.
Missouri's Diminishing Workers' Compensation Exclusivity Doctrine, Missouri Organization of Defense Lawyers Newsletter, 8 (Summer 2012).
Missouri's Diminishing Workers' Compensation Exclusivity Doctrine
Since 2009, Missouri courts have been consistently narrowing the scope of the workers' compensation exclusive remedy provision contained in RSMo. § 287.120. Specifically, the cases of McCracken v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, 298 S.W.3d 473 (Mo. banc. 2009), Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans v. Department of Labor Industrial Relations, 277 S.W.3d 670 (Mo. banc. 2009), Robinson v. Hooker, 323 S.W.3d 418 (Mo. App. W.D. 2010), State ex rel. KCP & L Greater Missouri Operations Co. v. Cook, 353 S.W.3d 14 (Mo. App. W.D. 2011), and Cooper v. Chrysler Group, LLC, 361 S.W.3d 60 (Mo.App. E.D. 2011) have fundamentally altered the traditional divide between workers' compensation and civil litigation.
This article first discusses the origins of the exclusive remedy doctrine, the impact of Tort Reform, and how the above cases have chipped away at the workers' compensation exclusivity provision. This article then explores issues facing employers given the current state of the law and proposed solutions, including the latest bill passed by the Legislature.
- A. Brief History of the Missouri Workers' Compensation Act and its Function as the Exclusive Remedy for Workplace Injuries
- i. Establishment of Workers' Compensation in Missouri
In 1926, the Missouri Legislature passed the Missouri Workers' Compensation Act (hereinafter the "Act"), and the battle over what type of injuries are covered thereunder has been raging
ever since. The purpose of the Act was simple: a compromise between employers and employees wherein employers would forgo fault-based defenses in exchange for immunity from civil tort liability while employees would forgo the potential for higher awards in exchange for the greater certainty of workers' compensation benefits. Under the initial Act, an "accident" was
defined simply as "an unexpected or unforeseen identifiable event or series of events."1
Over the next 50 years, Missouri courts slowly began to allow more work-related injuries to be brought in civil court.2 In 1983, the increase in the civil litigation of workplace injuries had become untenable and the Missouri Supreme Court decided to act. In Wolfgeher v. Wagner Cartage Service, Inc., 646 S.W.2d 781 (Mo. banc. 1983), the Supreme Court held that a "liberal
construction" would be given to the term "accident," specifically noting that:
"[t]he fundamental purpose of the Legislature in enacting the Workmen's Compensation Law was, as a matter of public welfare, to place upon industry the losses sustained by workmen and their dependents by reason of injuries and death arising out of and in the course of employment. The law is to be broadly and liberally interpreted with a view to the public interest, and is intended to extend its benefits to the largest possible class."3
- The result of the Wolfgeher holding was that more claims became compensable under the Act, which, once again, effectively became the exclusive remedy for employees injured at the workplace. Importantly, civil courts saw a decrease in the amount of workplace injury cases filed therein following the Wolfgeher decision, and the "liberal construction" of the term
"accident" persisted until the Missouri tort reform laws of 2005.