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James Karty was working as a waiter at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto which was owned by Richard DePhilippis. One of Filippi’s pizza cooks, Marcos Sevilla, heated a pan in a 550-degree pizza oven before placing a pizza on the pan for Karty’s order. Because the pizza pans are generally cool, Karty picked up the pan with his uncovered hand intending to deliver it to a customer’s table. When he did so, Karty screamed and then dropped the pan. Karty suffered serious and permanent burn injuries. Shortly after the incident, Sevilla admitted he was responsible for the action, quit his job, and never returned to the restaurant.

In addition to receiving workers’ compensation benefits, Karty sued his employer, DePhilippis, and two of Karty’s coworkers asserted two causes of action: battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He alleged that his coworkers “deliberately and with intent to injure [him] . . . heated up a pizza pan . . . with full knowledge of the almost-certain likelihood that when [Karty] touched the heated [pan], he would be burned.” Karty sought to recover against DePhilippis based on two exceptions to workers’ compensation exclusivity rules: (1) section 3602(b)(1), which provides for employer liability if the employee’s injury is caused “by a willful physical assault by the employer” and (2) employer ratification principles.

Karty acknowledged that before his August 15 burn injury, there was substantial horseplay among the restaurant employees. Karty and the other employees routinely engaged in practical jokes and other similar activities. For example, Karty frequently placed spoons in other employees’ pockets and would throw small items at other employees, and the employees (including Karty and Lopez) would hit each other with menus and pizza boxes. Karty viewed these activities as innocent horseplay or “joking around” and did not believe these actions were hostile or improper.

After Karty completed his presentation of his case during a jury trial, DePhilippis moved for a nonsuit based on his argument that workers’ compensation was the exclusive remedy for Karty’s injuries. In response, Karty argued that his manager, Lopez, encouraged and/or directed the burn incident and thus her actions could be attributed to the employer for civil liability purposes. The court granted the nonsuit motion, finding that although Karty presented evidence sufficient to establish that Lopez ” ‘participated in a “willful physical assault” on Karty,’ ” Lopez’s involvement did not establish an exception to the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy rules. Karty appealed the dismissal of his case, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal in the unpublished case of Karty v Richard DePhilippis.

Generally, an employee suffering an injury during the course and scope of his or her employment is limited to recovery provided by the workers’ compensation system. Courts broadly construe the exclusivity provisions and narrowly interpret exceptions to those provisions. Section 3602(b)(1) creates an express exception to the workers’ compensation exclusivity rules “[w]here the employee’s injury or death is proximately caused by a willful physical assault by the employer.” (Italics added.) Under the undisputed facts, DePhilippis was Karty’s employer as defined in the Labor Code. Karty presented no evidence that DePhilippis committed a physical assault or had any involvement or knowledge of the burn incident, or that anyone else was acting on his behalf in committing the claimed assault.