SW Legal studies in Business

Even if Willful Misconduct Alleged, No Tort Suit when Workers’ Compensation Covers Injury

Vermont high court held that the state’s workers’ compensation statute is clear that strict liability is imposed on employers for on-the-job injuries. Hence, a civil suit against an employer and other parties related to an accident, is barred, even if willful misconduct and gross negligence are claimed.

Topic Employment Law
Key Words

Workers’ Compensation Benefits; Tort; Injury

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Chayer worked at an Ethan Allen furniture manufacturing plant. He accidentally got a hand caught in a machine and it was cut off. As a result, he has received workers’ compensation benefits since the time of the accident. He sued the company, employees, the company’s insurance company, and members of the Safety Committee of the company, alleging gross negligence or willful misconduct relating to the design and operation of the machine. This “malicious, willful, intentional” conduct resulted in the loss of his hand. The defendants contended that there was no action for tort suit as workers’ compensation was the exclusive remedy. The trial court agreed and dismissed the suit. Chayer appealed.


Affirmed. The machine that was involved in the accident was dangerous. There had been complaints to the company about its operation before Chayer’s accident. The workers’ compensation statute makes it the exclusive remedy for such on-the-job accidents and bars most civil suits against the employer or other employees, including those involved in setting safety standards. The statute prohibits suit against employees, such as those on the safety committee. If there is any liability, it would be the employer, not employees doing tasks required by the employer. However, the intent of the statute is to impose strict liability, through workers’ compensation, on the employer for injuries suffered by employees on the job. As such, there is no cause of action against the employer even if there is a claim of gross negligence or willful misconduct regarding safety.

Citation Chayer v. Ethan Allen, Inc., ---A.2d--- (2008 WL 1030068, Sup. Ct., VT, 2008)

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