Bizarre Workers Compensation Cases

By Robinson, Thomas A. | Risk Management, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Bizarre Workers Compensation Cases


Robinson, Thomas A., Risk Management


Every year, thousands of workers compensation claims are filed. While most are fairly commonplace, some could be considered downright bizarre. Despite their unusual nature, however, one must always be respectful of the fact that while a case might be bizarre in an academic sense, it was intensely real, affecting real lives and real families. So, with that mind, the following is a list of the 10 most bizarre workers compensation cases during 2011.

CASE #1

Paving Worker Strikes Bowling Ball with Sledgehammer, Loses Eye and Workers Comp Claim

Pennsylvania

As our grandmothers taught us, "idle hands are the devil's tools." Consider a Pennsylvania case where a laborer and others on his crew found an old bowling ball near the parking lot where they were working. A number of workers within the crew first took turns using the bowling ball as a shot-put. Then a challenge arose as to whether any of them could break the ball with a sledgehammer. On the claimant's second hit, the ball shattered and a piece of it flew into his eye.

The workers compensation judge ruled that the actions of the claimant, while careless, did not take him outside the course and scope of the employment. The workers compensation board disagreed, however, finding that claimant had acted in violation of a positive work order - after he struck the ball the first time, it cracked, and his supervisor told him to "knock it off' and also indicated to the claimant that he would not take him to the hospital if he was injured from hitting the ball.

The appellate court observed that there were three criteria for establishing a positive work-order violation: (a) that the injury must be caused by the violation of the work order, (b) that the employee must know about the order, and (c) that the order must implicate an activity not connected with the employee's work duties. All three criteria existed here and the board's decision was affirmed.

CASE #2

Worker's Termination for Distributing Porn to Coworkers Does Not Disqualify Him from Continued Disability Benefits

Utah

In May, the Court of Appeals of Utah affirmed an award of continued workers compensation benefits to an injured worker in spite of the fact that he was terminated - after beginning a light duty program - for sending pornographic images to other employees' cell phones and to company email accounts.

The court agreed that there was no evidence the worker actually intended to sever his employment relationship with his employer. Nor had the worker refused light-duty. The court did not find persuasive the employer's contention that light work remained available to the worker and that he had constructively declined it by his improper activities.

CASE #3

Home-Based Worker Trips Over Her Dog Sustaining Compensable Injury

Oregon

Dogs may be our best friends, but in a case from Oregon, a home-based worker tripped over her small dog as she walked from her home to her nearby garage to retrieve some work-related supplies. The state's workers compensation board denied the claim, concluding that the worker's injury did not arise out of her employment because (a) she was not exposed to the risk by virtue of her employment, but encountered the same risk any time that she stepped outside the door of her home, and (b) because the risk arose from her home environment, which was outside of the employer's control.

The appellate court disagreed. Quoting Larson's Workers Compensation Law (LexisNexis), the court found the employer's lack of control over the conditions of the worker's premises was not material. While the employer might not have had control over the worker's dog, it had control over whether the worker worked away from the employer's premises. Once it was established that the home premises was also the work premises, it followed that the hazards of the home premises encountered in connection with the performance of the work were also hazards of the employment. …

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