Worker's voluntary participation in scuffle blocks benefits for injured arm
Case name: HAC, Inc., d/b/a Homeland Stores v. Box, No. 107786 (Okla. 12/14/10).
Ruling: The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that a worker was not an innocent victim of horseplay, so he was not entitled to benefits.
What it means: In Oklahoma, a worker who is injured by a coworker's prank or horseplay is an innocent victim and entitled to workers' compensation if there is proof that the injured worker did not initiate or voluntarily participate in the incident, or that the injured employee's only involvement in the incident was exclusively directed at escaping or avoiding the horseplay.
Summary: A 17-year-old worked in a grocery store stocking shelves. He was working with an assistant manager when a coworker came to the end of the aisle and threw a roll of toilet paper at him, which struck his head. The assistant manager told him not to worry about it, but the worker ran to the coworker and they engaged in a scuffle. The coworker put his arms around the worker from behind and their feet became tangled as the worker struggled to get away. Both the worker and coworker fell to the floor on top of the worker's right arm. The worker's arm and elbow were seriously injured, requiring surgery and physical therapy. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that there was no proof that the worker was an innocent victim injured by his coworker's horseplay, so his injury was not compensable.
The store argued that the worker voluntarily participated in the horseplay and no evidence showed he was an innocent victim of the coworker's horseplay. The court agreed. The worker left his workstation against his manager's instruction and actively joined in the horseplay by pursuing the coworker. The worker's testimony that he tried to get away from the coworker was not proof that his only involvement in the horseplay was directed at avoiding or escaping the horseplay.
The court mentioned that the worker stated that he was rough-housing with a coworker when he was injured. The court also noted that others who witnessed the incident, such as the assistant manager, were not called to testify.
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February 7, 2011
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