The Employee was working at the Doubletree Hotel when he was attacked by an acquaintance who had checked into the Employer’s hotel. At the time, the Employee was working as a houseman.
The Employee had known the assailant for a few years and they had worked together previously. They were also “friends” on social media and had each other’s cell phone contacts. The Employee testified they were not friends, but rather associates. The assailant had a history of severe mental illness, and was subsequently diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. The assailant’s uncle passed away from heart disease in the spring of 2018 and the assailant falsely believed the Employee had murdered his uncle.
On the date of injury, the Employee’s daughter called to indicate the assailant had been by looking for him and she told him he was at work. When the assailant arrived at the hotel he tried to use the Employee’s discount code and asked to speak to the Employee. He then checked into the hotel.
The Employee was working four floors down from the assailant’s floor. The assailant found the Employee and eventually hit him in the back of the head with a sharpened, military style shovel.
The Employee sustained permanent damage to his hands among other injuries. The Employer and Insurer asserted this was an intentional act and denied primary liability. The compensation judge found that this constituted an intentional assault and that the workers claim was barred.
On appeal, the Employee argued the judge erred in applying the intentional act exclusion, because the attack was senseless and essentially random.
The intentional acts exclusion indicates that a work injury “does not include any injury caused by the act of a third person or fellow employee intended to injure the employee because of personal reasons, and not directed against the employee as an employee, or because of employment”.
The Employee argued the lack of rational basis for the attack made this compensable; however, that case law supporting this argument was distinguishable because those injuries occurred by unknown assailants with unknown motives for assault. The W.C.C.A. affirmed the compensation judge’s findings.
The Employee appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, challenging the application of the “assault exception.” The Employee argued that an assailant, suffering from a mental illness, cannot form the necessary intent to injure someone for personal reasons as required by statute. The Minnesota Supreme Court noted this is an issue of first impression. In analyzing the issue, the Court looked to the plain definition of “intend.” The Court further stated that workers’ compensation is a creature of statute, and does not contemplate the effect of mental illness of an assailant if the intent to injure for personal reasons is evident. Here, the Court agreed that there is no specific carve-out exception to the assault exception for mental illness. The Court agreed with the compensation judge and the W.C.C.A. and affirmed.