Posted by Jim B on October 29, 1999 at 15:50:30:
Arizona Court: Injured Workers Can Sue Employer
The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that the doctrine of exclusive remedy in workers' compensation does not protect an employer from legal action in certain instances—even when workers' compensation benefits have been paid. In Stoecker v. Brush Wellman Inc., decided on July 1, 1999, the court unanimously overturned lower court decisions that had prevented workers with chronic beryllium disease from suing Brush Wellman over breach of contract.
Brush Wellman had promised its employees that if they got diseased from work their salaries would be paid in full. However, when nine workers at the firm's Tucson plant got sick, Brush Wellman reneged on its guarantee. The company argued that the contract claims were barred by the state's workers' compensation exclusivity provision.
The court properly found that Brush Wellman's attempts to expand the doctrine of exclusive remedy to bar breach of contract claims "would be very bad policy." "Such an interpretation," the court said, "would allow an unscrupulous employer that had no intention of performing its promise to take advantage of gullible, unsophisticated, or desperate workers. We refuse to adopt a rule that reaches these untoward and undesirable results."
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