All but four states (Arkansas, Missouri, Maryland, Vermont, plus the Virgin Islands) extend immunity from tort liability not only to the employer, but co-employees, at least as long as the co-employee is acting within the course and scope of his or her employment at the time of the worker’s injury [see Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 111.02]. In Maryland, under limited circumstances, the employer’s immunity can be extended to a supervisor if the basis of the alleged tort is the supervisor’s performance of a non-delegable duty owed the injured employee by the employer. Otherwise, the supervisor is subject to civil suit, as are other co-employees.
In a recent case, Haves v. Pratchett, 2012 Md. App. LEXIS 63 (June 5, 2012), the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland held that under the facts of the case, a civil action for motor vehicle negligence filed by an injured worker against his supervisor could proceed. Accordingly, it reversed a trial court’s decision that found the civil action barred by the exclusivity rule.
The plaintiff worked with others, including his supervisor, in the tire center of the employer’s warehouse sales facility. On the day of plaintiff’s injury, a space in one of the employer’s service bays came open and the supervisor walked into the parking lot so as to move a customer’s vehicle into the bay for required maintenance or service. Because of the way the various cars were parked, the supervisor’s view was obstructed. He pulled out of the parking space and struck a vehicle being driven by the plaintiff-employee.
The defendant contended that as the plaintiff-employee’s supervisor, he owed a duty to provide a safe working environment for the plaintiff, that to the extent that he negligently caused injury to the plaintiff, it was in the process of his supervisory duties and that he, therefore, was immune from suit. Quoting Larson, the appellate court noted that the vast majority of jurisdictions extended immunity to co-employees generally. It indicated that had the supervisor delegated the task of moving the vehicle to another, he would have been immune from suit if that other employee had caused the accident. Instead of delegating the duty, noted the court, the supervisor undertook to move the car himself. As a driver of a vehicle, he was not acting in a supervisory capacity, but as a driver. Under Maryland law, he owed a personal duty of care to all other travelers, including his co-employee, the plaintiff. He could be sued, therefore, for motor vehicle negligence.
See Haves v. Pratchett, 2012 Md. App. LEXIS 63 (June 5, 2012)
See generally Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 111.02.