McKee v. State, 755 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 30 (App. Div. I, December 30, 2016) (J. Gould)
WRONGFUL DEATH ACTION BARRED BY EXCLUSIVE REMEDY WHERE DECEDENT ELECTS WORKERS' COMPENSATION AND INTENTIONAL ACT EXCEPTION REQUIRES DELIBERATE INTENT TO INJURE/INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMMOTIONAL DISTRESS REQUIRES PLAINTIFF BE PRESENT WHEN TORTIOUS ACTS OCCUR/ ARIZONA STATE FORESTRY DIVISION IS A NON-JURAL ENTITY
Plaintiff's son, Grant McKee [McKee] was a firefighter with Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew and died fighting the Yarnell fire. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the State and the State Forestry Division seeking damages for wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The State filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's claims, arguing that her wrongful death claim was barred by the workers' compensation exclusive remedy provision, that plaintiff failed to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and that the State Forestry Division was a non-jural entity that could not be sued. The trial court granted the motion and the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed.
In Arizona, workers' compensation is the exclusive remedy for work-related injury or death of an employee. A.R.S. §23-1022(A). Only where the employer's willful conduct causes injury or death may a tort claim be brought against the employer. An employee of a public agency working under the jurisdiction and control of another public agency pursuant to an IGA is considered an employee of both agencies for purposes of the exclusive remedy provision of workers' compensation.
Here plaintiff argued McKee was an employee of the City of Prescott at the time of his death but not an employee of the State Forestry Division because of noncompliance with A.R.S. §11-952(F). This statute requires “appropriate action by ordinance or resolution” to extend the term of an IGA. Plaintiff claims this was not done so the IGA was no longer in effect at the time of McKee's death. However, the IGA in question provided, it "will continue in force from year to year unless terminated by either party." Hence, the agreement was perpetual and did not require a subsequent resolution to be effective.
In order to avoid the exclusive remedy of workers' compensation a plaintiff must prove the employer engaged in “willful misconduct” defined as “an act done knowingly and purposely with the direct object of injuring another." A.R.S. §23-1022(B). Specifically it must be proven that
“(1) the employer's willful misconduct must have been the cause of the employee's injury,
(2) the willful misconduct must have been an act done . . . knowingly and purposely with
the direct object of injuring another,"
(3) the act that caused the injury must have been the personal act of the employer, and
(4) the act must have reflected "a willfully disregard of the life, limb or bodily safety
Most important here, there must be a “deliberate intention” to injure. Intent is not implied from gross negligence or wanton conduct. Plaintiff did not allege intent to injure.
Further, plaintiff argued that since she personally had no right to workers' compensation benefits she could not be bound by McKee's election to accept such benefits. Diaz v. Magma Copper Co., 190 Ariz. 544, 549 (App. 1997) holds otherwise. Arizona's wrongful death statute provides that the action is subject to the same defenses that could be raised against the decedent had he survived. A.R.S. §12-611.
Next the plaintiff alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress. Specifically she claimed that defendants' gross negligence caused her severe emotional distress as did the defendants' negligent misrepresentation of the facts surrounding the Yarnell fire in order to avoid blame. These claims stand separate and apart from the wrongful death claim and are therefore not barred by the workers' compensation exclusive remedy. However, this tort requires the plaintiff be present when the extreme and outrageous conduct forming the basis of the claim occurred. Plaintiff does not allege she was present so these claims must fail as well.
Finally, in order to sue a governmental entity that entity must have been granted the power to sue and be sued by the state legislature. Here there was no grant of these powers to the Forestry Division. Hence it is a non-jural entity and cannot be sued.