January 19, 2016- Chesterfield, VA
James William Hill III, age 34, was indicted Tuesday under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for a May 2015 assault on a co-worker at the Amazon Distribution Center in Chester.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Hill attacked the victim, referred to as “C.T.” in the indictment, because of “C.T.’s actual and perceived sexual orientation.” The assault is believed to have been caught on security video.
A report by the Huffington Post indicates that Hill was fired immediately after the attack, and an Amazon representative said at the time that the company was “appalled” by Hill’s behavior.
In an exclusive interview with Brad Kutner, the editor of GayRVA.com, the victim reported that he was “pummeled” by Hill in the facility’s packing department. According to Kutner, the attack “…has fundamentally changed the victim’s life.”
For employees who are injured on the job, the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act normally serves as the employee’s exclusive remedy against the employer for injury, illness, or death sustained on-the-job. This is often referred to as the “Exclusive Remedy Doctrine.”
In C.T.’s case, the injury was sustained in an assault by a co-worker (otherwise known as an intentional tort), rather than a more typical workplace accident. However, the Supreme Court of Virginia has ruled that the exclusive remedy provision of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act does not bar a suit for damages against a defendant employer based on allegations of co-worker assault. Butler v. Southern States Cooperative, Inc., 270 Va. 459 (2005).
Under the Exclusive Remedy Doctrine, employees cannot bring a common law action against employer for covered injury by accident arising out of and in the course of the employment. For a co-worker assault to be considered an “accident,” it must be the result of an actual risk arising out of the employment.
Co-worker assault arises “in the course of” the employment if it occurs at a time when the employee may be reasonably fulfilling their job-related duties or doing something reasonably incidental to their job-related duties.
Importantly, co-worker assault does not arise “out of” the employment if the attack is personal to the worker (rather directed against the worker as an employee or because of the worker’s employment). Here, Hill allegedly admitted to assaulting C.T. it because he thought that C.T. was gay – rather than because of the nature of C.T.’s employment.
Therefore, C.T. may not be limited to Workers’ Compensation benefits, per the Exclusive Remedy Doctrine.
If you or a loved one is injured as a result of an attack committed by a co-worker, contact the experienced Virginia personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at ReidGoodwin as soon as possible to schedule a legal evaluation.