Exclusive Remedy Doctrine Bars Tort Suits Even After “No-Liability” Settlement in Workers’ Comp Claim

On February 13, 2009, John Ellis, an employee of The Knight Group, a homebuilder, accidentally shot his coworker, Joseph Smith, while the two were shooting the gun in an empty build site owned by the employer while on-the-clock. Smith v. Ellis, ___ Ga. ____, 2012 WL 3887670 (Sept. 10, 2012). Smith filed a workers’ compensation claim against the employer and eventually entered into a no-liability settlement regarding the injury for $6,000.00. Nine months later, Smith sued Ellis for negligence and, under the exclusive remedy provision, the trial court granted summary judgment to Ellis. In granting summary judgment, the trial court relied on Ridley v. Monroe, 256 Ga.App. 686 (2002), holding that a no-liability settlement has the same effect as a liability settlement. The Court of Appeals split evenly on whether Ridley should be overruled. The Supreme Court held that Ridley was correctly held and the exclusive remedy provision barred Smith from bringing an action for the same injury against anyone except a third-party tortfeasor. As such, Smith argued that Ellis was a third-party tortfeasor rather than a coworker. The Court found that there was enough fact alleged that Ellis was not acting as “an employee of the same employer” to preclude summary judgment since Ellis left his build site that day for “personal reasons” and hid his presence at Smith’s build site from a supervisor.

For more information, please contact Timothy J. Buckley III, Esq. at (404) 633-9230.

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