Felonious Assault Case Summary
This is a review of a workers compensation case which also included an accusation of sexual harassment and felonious assault. The worker in this case claimed that her injuries were received on the company’s premises as she tried to fend off the advances of her employer.
The salient issue in this case was the right of a plaintiff to collect workers compensation benefits due to an injury sustained as a direct result of a criminal action perpetrated by her employer.
Statement of Facts…
On March 6th, 2011, Nikki Whiteman was under the employ of George Fata and The Crash Box Factory. The Crash Box Factory was a specialty wholesale company which manufactured and sold high quality boxes to companies who needed specially constructed packaging for their high end products.
Some of the companies Crash Box sold to were jewelry stores, medical labs, and computer companies. The boxes were specially padded, colored, and imprinted according to the wholesale customers’ requirements.
Whiteman was originally hired directly by Fata on January 2nd, 2011, as a receptionist. Her duties included answering telephone calls, making copies, filing, and other similar administrative actions. Fata’s office was directly adjacent to the reception area and Whiteman’s desk.
Beginning on or about the end of January of the same year, Fata began to make what Whiteman called “sex jokes.” Those jokes usually included what Whiteman considered inappropriate references to the female anatomy.
Although Fata at first didn’t tell the jokes directly to Whiteman, Whiteman said when Fata was telling them to other male employees he would do so loud enough for her to hear. A few weeks later Fata began to call Whiteman into his office. According to Whiteman, under the guise of asking her to take some notes, Fata began telling the same inappropriate jokes directly to her. She said she asked him not to, but he persisted.
Whiteman went on to claim that early in February Fata began to touch her shoulders and back when speaking with her. She made every effort to thwart what she believed were unnecessary touching.
In the ensuing felony action she said after Fata touched her breast she told him she had enough of his sexual harassment and resigned.
As she turned to leave she said he followed her. Whiteman said Fata followed her out to the parking lot. As he did, Whiteman said she picked up her pace to stay ahead of him. As she reached her car and opened the door to get in, she said Fata forced the door open, prohibiting her from closing the door. Concerned for her safety and unable to close the door to her car, she jumped up and began to run away from.
She took 3 steps and was grabbed from behind by Fata. She said he grabbed her inappropriately around her midsection and chest area. As she lunged away, she escaped his grasp and fell forward, falling hard to the ground on her face. She attempted to break her fall, and as she did her hands and face were lacerated.
When Fata attempted to help her up, Whiteman said she screamed as loudly as she could. When she did, Fata ran away. Some of the other employees, seeing the incident, ran to her aid and called 911. The Police and Paramedics arrived minutes later.
Whiteman was taken to the local hospital where she was treated for lacerations, contusions and abrasions to her face and hands. The police questioned her, and she told them about Fata’s chasing her and causing her to fall. She told the police:
“[He] groped me. I was afraid of him and tried to get away from him. I thought he was going to hurt me.”
With that information Fata was arrested and charged with felonious assault. Several weeks later, Whiteman filed a workers compensation claim. Her claim was based upon the injuries she received on her employer’s property, and as a direct result of her employer’s assault.
Request for Declaratory Judgment…
Whiteman filed a workers compensation claim. The facial injuries she sustained necessitated plastic surgery which would cost $18,000. Along with the medical bills she already incurred, her claim amounted to $41,000. In addition, she claimed compensation for her lost wages in the amount of $8,500.
The workers compensation insurance carrier denied her claim, basing their denial on the pending felony action and the underlying cause.
As a result Whiteman retained local counsel and filed a civil action in district court requesting a Declaratory Judgment.
When there is a question of law which can determine the rights and obligations of parties in a civil dispute, one or both parties can file a Request for a Declaratory Judgment. A Declaratory Judgment is a ruling by a civil court which settles the issue of law before it. It is a binding Judgment which must be adhered to by all concerned.
In this case Whiteman’s Request for a Declaratory Judgment asked the court to determine whether she had a legal right to pursue a workers compensation claim based upon the criminal action of her employer.
Whiteman’s counsel argued the existence of a criminal action and a workers compensation claim are not self-exclusive. Although most workers compensation claims result from on the job injuries, the question posed to the court was whether a felony sexual attack is sufficient causation for a work related injury.
Counsel for the workers compensation insurance carrier argued a sexual offense is a criminal action. Criminal actions are not a valid basis for workers compensation claims. Instead, the insurance carrier claimed, Whiteman should pursue her claim for her injuries as a separate civil action independent of workers compensation.
After hearing the arguments of counsel in this felonious assault case, and after reviewing the admitted evidence, the Court ruled:
“The question before us in the Request for Declaratory Judgment is whether an injury caused by an employer’s criminal action is sufficient to uphold a workers compensation action.
Although the evidence is clear the Plaintiff was not injured ‘on the job’ in the traditional sense, nevertheless she was injured not as a result of her own negligence or reckless conduct, but rather as a result of her employer’s.
The court would be setting the wrong precedent if it were to rule an employee’s right to workers compensation benefits ends once that employee resigns from her employment because she was being sexually abused or assaulted.
Although that might be the case if the employee already left the premises and was injured ‘off property,’ in this case we find quite the opposite.
In this case the employee resigned and was still on her employer’s property. While still on the property, she suffered a felonious assault by her employer. That assault resulted in her injuries. With the evidence before us we must render a Declaratory Judgment in favor of the Plaintiff’s supposition of workers compensation based upon job injuries.”
In this case, the question was whether the injured party was entitled to workers compensation benefits even though she was not technically injured “on the job.”
This court’s duty wasn’t to hear the merits of the actual workers compensation claim or criminal case; it was to declare whether the plaintiff had a legal right to pursue a claim for workers compensation based on a criminal action.
Sexual Harassment can take many forms. An extension of that harassment can result in a legitimate workers compensation claim if the party being harassed suffers a felonious assault and as a result is injured on the job.
*This case example is for educational purposes only. It is based on actual events although names have been changed to protect those involved. Any resemblance to real persons or entities is purely coincidental.
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