Beware the Co-Worker’s Dog!

Your co-worker’s dog (or other animal) can be doubly dangerous because the worker’s compensation laws might prevent you from recovering the full amount of your damages if the animal injures you.

That defense has been raised in the horrific chimp-mauling of Charla Nash, whose hands, nose, lips and eyelids were ripped off by a co-worker’s chimpanzee several months ago. The attorneys for the chimp’s owner, Sandra Herold, have asserted that Nash’s multi-million-dollar claim be governed by the worker’s compensation laws because both Nash and Herold were working with the chimp, which was used to promote their employer’s business.

In almost all cases, the existence of a workers compensation remedy does not hurt an injured employee’s dog bite claim, because the employee is allowed to proceed against both the workers compensation insurance as well as the dog owner’s insurance. When the dog owner is a coworker, however, two problems can arise: first, the right to proceed against a coworker might be eliminated by the workers compensation law, and second the homeowners insurance of the dog owner may exclude coverage for work-related incidents.

Therefore employers who allow workers to bring their dogs to the job site or office are inadvertently increasing not only the risk of harm to their employees, but also the degree of harm. The presence of dogs creates the opportunity for dog bites and therefore raises the risk of harm. Additionally, the fact that the injury might be considered work related means that the injured employee could be prevented from collecting all that the law provides otherwise, which thereby increases the degree of the harm.