Missouri: Boyfriend’s Murder of Employee Did Not Arise From the Employment; Wrongful Death Action Not Barred by Exclusive Remedy Doctrine

Last Friday, a Missouri appellate court reversed a decision by a state trial court that had sustained a defendant-employer’s motion for summary judgment in a wrongful death action filed against it and others by parents of an 18-year-old employee who was shot and killed by her boyfriend at her work premises as her shift ended one evening. [Flowers v. City of Campbell, 2012 Mo. App. LEXIS 1062 (Aug. 31, 2012)]. At the trial court level, the employer successfully contended that the wrongful death action was barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the Missouri Workers’ Compensation Act.  

The appellate court indicated the exclusivity defense was available to the employer only if the employee’s death occurred in the course and scope of her employment. She had worked as a cashier at the employer’s retail store for a few months. On the day of her death, the employee arrived at the store in a highly emotional state and with a black eye. She related to her supervisor and co-workers that she had been physically assaulted by her boyfriend the previous evening. Her supervisor told her to go into the store office to gather her composure. A few minutes later her boyfriend showed up at the store, realized the employee was hiding from him, and kicked open the locked office door. He did not assault the employee at that time and was persuaded to leave the premises. The supervisor then alerted the police, who picked the boyfriend up later that afternoon, but released him under unknown reasons. The boyfriend returned to the employer’s store as the employee’s shift was ending. She shot and killed the employee and then killed himself with the same weapon.

The appellate court acknowledged that assaults related to the dangerous nature of an employee’s duties, or by the dangerous environment in which the employee was required to perform them, or were the outgrowth of frictions generated by the work itself could be said to arise out of the employment. The court observed, however, that assaults committed in the course of private quarrels that were purely personal to the participants did not arise from the employment and injuries or deaths resulting from such assaults were not compensable in Missouri. That the employee was killed at work or that the employer filed a report of injury did not, ipso facto, render the worker’s compensation claim compensable.

The appellate court concluded that the employee’s death resulted from a noncompensable private quarrel. None of the three attacks by the boyfriend had any relationship to her work. The boyfriend had a personal motive for these assaults, and the employer “merely imported her private life to the scene of the assault.” Although the assaults on the employee were unprovoked and unjustified, her injuries did not arise out of her employment because the assaults were directed at her for purely personal reasons.

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