An appeals court ruled that the estate of Miguel Pena, a setting machine operator shot and killed by a fellow employee at Gutmann Leather in Chicago, may proceed with a wrongful death suit.
Gutmann Leather had won a lower court dismissal, arguing that workers’ compensation should apply because the operator was working on the premises, on the clock, when Ramon Hernandez shot him. Workers’ compensation is
the exclusive remedy for on-the-job injuries and it bars other lawsuits.
The appellate court disagreed, finding that the dispute was personal, arising out a long history of “bitter enmity.” Pena’s death, therefore, did not arise from his employment. The plaintiffs showed that Gutmann knew Hernandez was violent and that he had threatened Pena, but the company continued to schedule them for overlapping shifts and did nothing to protect him. The week before the shooting, a fearful Pena stayed home for several days.
Final note: It’s a peculiar day in court when an employer argues for workers’ compensation coverage. That’s because a wrongful death verdict is even worse. Protect employees from violent co-workers.