Generally, most workplace accidents fall within Alabama's Workers' Compensation Act. Alabama courts have routinely stated that the Act is to serve a comprehensive, no-fault structure aimed at providing benefits to workers injured on the job. Therefore, injured workers are often limited to workers compensation benefits as their sole means of compensation for their injuries. However, the Act allows an injured worker to bring a separate claim against negligent third parties or a co-employee lawsuit in situations where the injury is the result of co-employee's "willful conduct." The Alabama Workers' Compensation Act expressly defines the following instances as "willful conduct":
(1) A purpose or intent or design to injure another; and if a person, with knowledge of the danger or peril to another, consciously pursues a course of conduct with a design, intent, and purpose of inflicting injury, then he or she is guilty of "willful conduct."
(2) The willful and intentional removal from a machine of a safety guard or safety device provided by the manufacturer of the machine with knowledge that injury or death would likely or probably result from the removal; provided, however, that removal of a guard or device shall not be willful conduct unless the removal did, in fact, increase the danger in the use of the machine and was not done for the purpose of repair of the machine or was not part of an improvement or modification of the machine which rendered the safety device unnecessary or ineffective.
(3) The intoxication of another employee of the employer if the conduct of that employee has wrongfully and proximately caused injury or death to the plaintiff or plaintiff's decedent, but no employee shall be guilty of willful conduct on account of the intoxication of another employee or another person.
(4) Willful and intentional violation of a specific written safety rule of the employer after written notice to the violating employee by another employee who, within six months after the date of receipt of the written notice, suffers injury resulting in death or permanent total disability as a proximate result of the willful and intentional violation. The written notice to the violating employee shall state with specificity all of the following:
a. The identity of the violating employee.
b. The specific written safety rule being violated and the manner of the violation.
c. That the violating employee has repeatedly and continually violated the specific written safety rule referred to in b. above with specific reference to previous times, dates, and circumstances
d. That the violation places the notifying employee at risk of great injury or death.
Based on the statute's definition of "willful conduct," most co-employee claims stemming from a workplace accident involve the removal or inadequate maintenance of a safety device. Since employers often control various machines in their workplace, an injured worker may never know that a safety device was missing from a particular machine. If you are injured in a workplace accident in Alabama and suspect a safety guard was not maintained or removed from a machine, contact a Birmingham work injury lawyer to discuss your legal rights.