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Annals of Workers Comp: Giving "Exclusive Remedy" the Boot
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Annals of Workers Comp: Giving "Exclusive Remedy" the Boot

We all know that workers comp is the "exclusive remedy" for employees who are injured on the job. Comp is "no fault;" you cannot sue your employer for work-related injuries. While this is almost universally true, there are a few rare exceptions - which leads us to the football locker room of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Lawrence Tynes kicked footballs for a living. He spent time with the New York Giants and eventually found himself in training camp for the Buccaneers. He suffered a toe injury - no small matter for a kicker - and received treatment under the team's workers comp policy. The treatment took place in the team's locker room, where Tynes developed an infection. Only when he went to doctor outside the facility did he learn that he had contracted the MRSA virus. The infection ended his career. Tynes sued Buccaneers, to the tune of $20 million.

Not-So-Exclusive Remedy

But if you collect workers comp, you cannot sue your employer, right?

In turns out that Tynes was not the first player to develop a MRSA infection in the locker room. At least three other players were infected before Tynes began his treatments, one of whom sued and settled for $3 million. Because the team knew of the problem and did nothing to correct it, a simple workers comp claim morphed into negligence and liability. Under common law standards, the team had an obligation to fix a very serious problem as soon as they became aware of it. When they failed to do this, the door to tort liability opened.

Given its indefensible response to a known hazard, the team decided not to pursue an "exclusive remedy" defense in court. Their negligence loomed large in this decision. So they settled for an undisclosed amount.

The lesson here is simple: exclusive remedy remains a core principle of the comp system, but don't forget common sense. If something needs fixing, you'd best fix it.

Jon Coppelman
Senior Workers Compensation Consultant
Renaissance Alliance

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