Thomas A. Robinson on Company Doctor Exception to Exclusivity

The company doctor is the health care professional employed at the factory infirmary, or on call to provide professional first aid, routine medical examinations, immunizations, health screening, and the like. Although the practice has begun to disappear in many locations, historically some employers, particularly those employing many workers, have sometimes secured the services of company doctors to handle routine injuries and related health matters. The potential exposure of so-called company doctors to tort suits for alleged medical malpractice has been an interesting area within the law of workers compensation. That some states have allowed such tort actions to be maintained against co-employee company physicians, all the while barring them against company lawyers, company welders, company carpenters, and company mechanics--to list just a few other professions--has caused some legal scholars and quite a few workers compensation attorneys to scratch their heads.

In a recent case from the Court of Appeals of Georgia, McLeod v. Blase, 2008 Ga. App. LEXIS 313 (March 18, 2008), a state appellate court was called upon to determine if Georgias rule allowing medical malpractice suits against company doctors could be expanded to allow a similar malpractice action by a professional basketball player against a professional athletic trainer employed the same National Basketball Association team.

 This expert commentary written by Thomas A. Robinson analyzes the case, provides a discussion of both the majority rule banning tort actions against co-employee physicians and the minority rule allowing them, discusses other relevant issues related to co-employee immunity under the exclusive remedy doctrine, and observes that while the Georgia court correctly refused to extend the rule allowing suits against company doctors, the states continued adherence to the minority rule is an unfortunate example of tort concepts leaking over into workers compensation law, where they do not belong.

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