Sport’s injuries are not typically covered under worker’s compensation insurance. But as our Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers have come to know well, there are always exceptions.
A perfect example of this was highlighted recently in the case of Whigham v. Jackson Dawson Communications, weighed by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
The crux of this decision was whether injury occurred in the course of a work-related duty. As a marketing manager, the claimant was not in the business of professional kickball. However, as part of his employment, according to court records, he was required to attend twice-monthly meetings at which managers discussed, among other matters, the importance of team-building activities.
In accordance with the company’s desire to cultivate a more enjoyable atmosphere in the office, the claimant proposed a company kickball game. His boss liked the idea, and gave him the go-ahead to proceed. He was given funds from the company and instructed to book a facility, design t-shirts and organize drinks and snacks. Once the event was organized, the claimant was granted permission to use company computers and e-mail systems to promote attendance among other employees.
The game took place on a Friday afternoon, with about half the company’s workers in attendance. During the game, the claimant/organizer was injured. He jumped to avoid being thrown out, and landed awkwardly on his right leg. His tibia and fibula were broken. He was transported to the hospital by ambulance, required two surgeries and was told by doctors he would likely need a knee replacement a few years from now as a result of the impact.
The manager sought workers’ compensation benefits. A single commissioner denied the claim on the grounds the injury did not arise out of or in the course of employment. Further, she found he was not required to attend the event, and there was no benefit to the company beyond general morale. A full commission affirmed, as did an appellate court.
The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the appellate court’s ruling. The high court first noted that the Workers’ Compensation Act is to be liberally construed in favor of the claimant (as is the case here too in Georgia). Still, the worker has to show the injury arose out of or in the course of employment.
In considering social or recreational activity within the course of employment, the court needs to consider whether it occurs on site during a lunch or recreation period that is a regular incident of employment, whether the employer expressly or impliedly required participation and whether the employer derives any direct benefit beyond the intangible.
The claimant in this case argued the injury arose out of his employment because he was impliedly required to attend the game he organized, as it had become part of his services and, therefore, brought it within the scope of his employment. The state supreme court agreed. He was expected to attend this event as part of his professional duties. Therefore, the injury was compensable.
Interestingly, had any other employee involved in this situation attempted to assert the same claim, they likely would have had a much weaker case, given that participation was not considered mandatory. In fact, only 50 percent actually attended. However, the organizer of the event was, by virtue of his position, held to a different standard, which is what gave credence to his claim.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.
Whigham v. Jackson Dawson Communications, Aug. 27, 2014, South Carolina Supreme Court
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Cruz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board – Court Weighs Proof Burden for Injured Undocumented Workers, Aug. 10, 2014, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog