The Fellow-Servant Rule
Traditionally, the “fellow-servant rule” barred an employee’s personal injury action against his or her employer if the employee’s injury was caused by a co-worker. For example, an employee works in an employer’s sawmill. One of the employee’s co-workers accidentally bumps into the employee, causing him or her to step backward and place his or her hand onto an electric saw. The employee files a personal injury action against the employer, claiming that the employer negligently failed to equip the electric saws with finger guards. Under the fellow-servant rule, the employer would not be liable for the employee’s injury if the employer could prove that the employee’s injury was caused by his or her co-worker rather than the absence of a finger guard on the saw.
Today, the fellow-servant rule is not a defense to a workers’ compensation claim. Therefore, in the example above, the employee could recover workers’ compensation benefits even if his or her co-worker caused his or her injury.
However, the fellow-servant rule may still apply to cases that do not involve workers’ compensation. In a personal injury action, the employer may still escape liability if he or she can prove that the employee’s injury was caused by the co-worker rather than the absence of a finger guard on the saw.