Can an Injured Worker Sue Claiming Bad Faith in Civil Court?
While working as a manager at a fast food restaurant, Jeffery Bowden was allegedly assaulted during an attempted armed robbery. He filed a workers’ compensation claim, which was handled by First Liberty Insurance Company on behalf of its insured. Mr. Bowden also sued First Liberty in civil court, alleging bad faith and intentional infliction of emotional distress related to the handling of his workers’ compensation claim. First Liberty moved to dismiss the civil complaint, arguing that Bowden could not pursue these claims in civil court because the Industrial Commission had exclusive jurisdiction. The trial court denied the motion.
First Liberty appealed, and on February 17, 2015, in Bowden v. Young, the Court of Appeals reversed. The Court specifically rejected Bowden’s argument that the superior court was a proper forum for his civil lawsuit because he alleged intentional torts. The Court pointed out that the Commission has exclusive jurisdiction over work-related injuries and any claims that are ancillary to a compensable injury. Although intentional torts are generally outside the scope of the Workers’ Compensation Act, the Court held that all claims arising from an employer’s or insurer’s processing and handling of a workers’ compensation claim also fall with the Commission’s exclusive jurisdiction, regardless of whether the alleged conduct was intentional. Because Mr. Bowden’s allegations all addressed the handling of his workers’ compensation claim, the Commission had exclusive jurisdiction over those claims.