Can Workers Get Compensation for Injuries Caused by Horseplay?

Employers are responsible for injuries that occur on worksites. In some cases, employers are not only held responsible for damages that occur while performing work duties but can also be held liable for perils that occurred while employees were horsing around or goofing off. Although Georgia workers’ compensation laws– and other state workers’ compensation laws–  have a horseplay exception, when and how it applies is a question that leaves room for interpretation. workers-724160-m

If you were hurt at work and your employer is claiming the injury was partially or wholly your fault, you should talk to an Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyer at Parsons & Associates, P.C. about whether you have the right to make a claim for damages or not. You should not assume your claim will be denied because you played a role in the accident.

Compensation for Atlanta Work Injuries Caused by Horseplay in the Workplace

The Employee Handbook for the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation states that “workers’ compensation does not provide benefits for an injury or accident resulting from an employee’s willful misconduct.” The handbook indicates workers’ comp benefits will not be paid for fighting, horseplay, injuries related to drug abuse or to alcohol abuse, or injuries resulting from a willful third party action that occurred for personal reasons.

The rule, in practice, however, is not necessarily as clear as it may seem. Safety News Alert reported on one case in South Dakota where employees were chasing each other around the worksite during downtime. One of the employees broke his ankle in the chase and applied for workers’ compensation coverage. The claim was denied, but the case was taken to the state Department of Labor and ultimately to the South Dakota Supreme Court. The court found that the injury arose out of employment and that the act of horseplay was not a substantial deviation from his work. As a result, the worker was entitled to benefits.

While South Dakota rulings don’t apply in Atlanta, there have been other cases in Georgia where employees have been able to take legal action against their employers even in cases where it is arguable that they contributed to causing their own injuries. The Wall Street Journal reported on one particular case last year that was allowed to move forward.

The case involved a worker on an Atlanta-based railroad company who was goofing around with his friends at his worksite outside of working hours. The friends were making a potato cannon from spare parts. Several of those involved were reportedly drinking beer at the time.

The friends decided to set off the cannon, but unfortunately it sent shrapnel flying through the air. The worker, sitting nearby on a fire escape, was struck on the skull and suffered a brain injury. He subsequently sued his former employer claiming the company should pay damages because the company failed to maintain a safe site. He alleged that the supervisors should have told the workers to leave the site and stop playing with the potato gun. The lawsuit relied upon a tort theory many states have adopted holding employers responsible for actions taken by off-the-clock employees who are on the employer’s premises.

The case was initially dismissed, but a state appeals court reversed the decision to allow the injured worker to pursue the claim.

Because there are so many variables regarding when employees can make a workers’ compensation or tort claim, every worker who gets hurt should get legal advice about what his options are and whether he can make a case for compensation.

Parsons & Associates, P.C. is an Atlanta workers’ compensation law firm serving Atlanta, Savannah, and surrounding areas throughout Fulton County. Contact Parsons & Associates, P.C. today at 770-422-9000 or contact us online if you have been injured at work.