In Million v. Exxon Mobil, et al., plaintiff was diagnosed with cancer and pulmonary embolisms in 2016. Plaintiff had worked in the chemical industry for 40 years. In his suit, filed in the United States Middle District Court, plaintiff alleged that long-term exposure to toxic chemicals during his employment caused his cancer. While the suit alleged that Million’s former employers created an unsafe work environment, he admitted in deposition that he was provided both safety equipment and safety training during his employment.
Andrew Blanchfield, managing partner at Keogh Cox, represented one of the former employers and filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to enforce the protections of Louisiana worker’s compensation law. Under the law, worker’s compensation benefits are generally an employee’s exclusive remedy against an employer for work-related injuries or illnesses. An employer is therefore entitled to immunity from tort claims unless the employee can prove that employer committed an “intentional act.”
To prevail under an intentional act theory, a plaintiff is required to show that the employer’s act was “intentional” and “substantially certain” to result in injury to the plaintiff. In support of the motion to enforce immunity, the former employers cited to plaintiff’s admissions in deposition as to the efforts made for his safety and to the absence of evidence sufficient to show intentional conduct substantially certain to cause injury. The district court granted the motion and dismissed plaintiff’s claims. This month, the dismissal was upheld by the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in Million v. Exxon Mobil Corp., Exxon Chem. Co./ Exxon Ref., No. 20-30002, 2020 WL 7054051 (5th Cir. Dec. 1, 2020).
This case illustrates the interplay between general Louisiana tort law and the Louisiana worker’s compensation law and shows that courts will require substantive evidence of an intentional act to maintain a tort suit against an otherwise immune employer.
Chelsea Payne is an associate at Keogh Cox and has been practicing for three years. Her practice mainly relates to construction law and complex litigation. Chelsea enjoys playing tennis and spending time with her family.