Graef v. Continental Indemnity Company (Worker’s Compensation Exclusive Remedy)

In Graef v. Continental Indemnity Company (2018AP1782), the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that an employee’s negligence claim was barred by the exclusive-remedy provision of the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Act.


Graef was gored by a bull while working in the livestock yard at Equity Livestock. Because of physical injuries and depression resulting from the incident, Graef attempted suicide with a firearm and suffered a gunshot injury. A doctor had prescribed the antidepressant duloxetine for Graef’s depression; the livestock company’s Worker’s Compensation insurer, Continental Indemnity Company, bore responsibility for authorizing and paying for the medication. Shortly before Graef attempted suicide, Continental denied a payment request for a refill of his antidepressant prescription.

Two years later, Graef filed a tort action alleging that Continental was negligent in its refusal to authorize and pay for refilling his prescription, seeking compensatory damages associated with his suicide attempt. Continental moved for summary judgement, asserting that the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Act provides an exclusive remedy for Graef’s claims. The circuit court denied Continental’s motion, concluding that the exclusive-remedy provision did not bar Graef’s tort action. The appellate court reversed and Graef appealed.


The Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals and Continental, concluding that Graef’s allegations, if true, “satisfy the conditions of liability under Wis. Stat. § 102.03(1), and therefore his claim must be filed as a worker’s compensation claim.” The supreme court affirmed the appellate court’s decision and remanded the matter to the circuit court with instructions to grant summary judgement to Continental on Graef’s negligence claim.


Justice Jill Karofsky delivered the opinion of the court, joined by Chief Justice Annette Ziegler and Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Patience Roggensack, Rebecca Dallet, and Brian Hagedorn. Justice Rebecca Bradley filed a dissenting opinion.