Brawl yields WC despite assertion that claimant was aggressor
Case name: Wilson v. General Motors Corp., No. 45, 232-WCA (La. Ct. App. 05/26/10).
Ruling: The Louisiana Court of Appeal upheld an award of indemnity benefits to an assembly line worker who was injured during an altercation with a coworker.
What it means: Under Louisiana law, if an employer establishes that the injured worker was the initial aggressor in an unprovoked physical altercation, no compensation is payable unless excessive force was used in retaliation against the initial aggressor. Where there is conflicting evidence as to who initiated the altercation, the workers' compensation judge must decide which individual's testimony is more credible.
Summary: The claimant worked on an assembly line installing steering columns. As he was using an overhead air wrench to begin installing a steering column, a coworker -- who had arrived late for the shift -- walked by and "slapped" the cord to the claimant's wrench out of the way. The claimant testified that a verbal altercation ensued, during which the coworker cursed at him, then got in his face, eventually hitting him and knocking him to the ground. As a result of the assault, the claimant sustained a fractured wrist and a broken facial bone. A workers' compensation judge found that the altercation arose of the claimant's employment and awarded indemnity benefits for a closed period. The Court of Appeal upheld the WCJ's decision.
The employer contended that the claimant was not entitled to benefits because he was the initial aggressor in the scuffle. According to the coworker, the physical altercation was initiated by the claimant, who "bumped him in the chest once or twice" as he was getting his steering column. He testified that the claimant approached him and cursed at him, and because he felt threatened, he protected himself by knocking the claimant to the ground.
The court noted that the WCJ had to make a credibility determination because of the conflicting accounts given by the claimant and the coworker. It concluded that the WCJ's resolution of the issue in the claimant's favor was reasonable under the circumstances.
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August 19, 2010
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