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A Pennsylvania Superior Court panel has found that an employee sexually assaulted at her workplace does not have to show that a history of animosity existed between her and her attacker to recover damages against her employer under an exception to the Workers’ Compensation Act. The panel of judges found that the attack at issue fell under an exception to the rule that the WCA covers all workplace injuries and bars lawsuits. The exception applies to third-party attacks stemming from what is termed ‘personal animus’ and not directed against the employee due to her employment. The court found that a showing of personal animus is not “strictly” required to trigger the third-party attack exception to the Workers’ Compensation Act. “What is required is a showing that the victim was attacked for purely personal reasons unrelated to employment,” Judge Debra B. Todd wrote for the court in Krasevic v. Goodwill Industries of Central Pa. Inc.. “We emphasize that a presumption nonetheless remains that an attack is work-related when, as here, it occurs on the employer’s premises, and that the lack of previous personal animus strongly indicates a work-related cause.” The panel ruled that a Dauphin County, Penn., trial court judge was right not to award a judgment n.o.v. after a jury awarded Sherrie Ann Krasevic $500,000 in a negligence action against her employer Goodwill Industries of Central Pennsylvania Inc. Todd was joined in the opinion by Judge Justin M. Johnson and Patrick R. Tamilia. Krasevic, although in her 30s, has the mental age of a 7-year-old due to her mild-to-severe mental retardation. She started working at Goodwill in 1989 as part of a “sheltered workshop” program. In August 1994, Krasevic was in a women’s restroom on an unsupervised break when she was raped by a minor identified in the opinion as Durell Stern. Previous to the attack, Stern had on occasion touched Krasevic’s breasts and kissed her. Stern worked for Susquehanna Employment & Training Corp. under a contract with Goodwill at the time of the assault. The minor subsequently admitted to the assault and was found delinquent on the charge of indecent assault. Krasevic and her parents filed the negligence action against Goodwill arguing the company was negligent in providing inadequate supervision. Evidence presented at trial established that other sexual assaults had happened in Goodwill’s bathrooms and that had Goodwill supervised Krasevic on her bathroom break, the rape might not have occurred. A jury returned a verdict of $500,000 plus about $71,000 in delay damages. Goodwill’s post-trial motions were denied, and the employer appealed in the instant decision. Goodwill first argued that the trial court erred by not granting a j.n.o.v. because Krasevic did not show enough evidence of personal animosity between Krasevic and Stern. The act provides that a worker can receive compensation for injuries received on the job and an employer receives immunity from a lawsuit. The act, however, has an exception, which the court says has “loosely” been labeled the “personal animus” exception or third-party attack exception. The exception provides in part, “The term ‘injury arising in the course of his employment,’ as used in this article, shall not include an injury caused by an act of a third person intended to injure the employe[e] because of reasons personal to him, and not directed against him as an employe[e] or because of his employment …” Under the exception, an employee can recover damages if an employer was negligent in maintaining a safe work environment. The court said the “key” to the exception is the determination that an attack came because of “purely personal reasons.” Goodwill argued that Krasevic did not adequately show animosity existed between herself and her attacker. Therefore, Goodwill argued, Krasevic’s only method of recovery would be through the WCA. The court disagreed, finding that a showing of personal animus is not strictly required but rather, the necessary evidence must present a showing that the victim was attacked for purely personal reasons not related to employment. Todd then concluded that the evidence presented at trial was adequate to show that Krasevic was attacked for purely personal reasons. “The attack occurred while Krasevic was on break, while she was in the bathroom,” Todd wrote. “She was not at her work station and was not performing a work-related task. In fact, the substance of the attack itself — a rape — cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered a work-related occurrence.” “Indeed our review of the record leads us to the conclusion, consistent with the trial court, that Stern had developed a personal fixation on Krasevic and that the bathroom at Goodwill was merely a convenient location to carry out an attack.” The middle appeals court also shot down two other arguments, one involving a challenge to the jury instruction the court gave and the other involving the court’s rejection of a jury instruction on superseding cause.

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