NOT ALL JOB INJURIES ARE COMPENSABLE – Employee Is Not Entitled To Worker’s Compensation Benefits For Bowling Ball Injury

March 4th, 2014, 3:06 PM

The lawyers at the Elderkin Law Firm routinely represent workers who suffer serious injuries in the course of employment. The worker’s compensation law provides a valuable source of wage loss and medical benefits to workers injured during the course of their jobs. These benefits are usually available regardless of whether the worker was injured due to his or her own negligence or the negligence of others. However, there are situations where the worker’s careless conduct may render him or her ineligible for these benefits.


One such case was Habib v. Worker’s Compensation Appeal Board. In that case, the injured employee worked as a laborer for a paving company. While his crew was awaiting delivery of a truckload of asphalt, a bowling ball was found next to the parking lot where they were working. To pass the time, the workers first engaged in a spirited round of shot-put with the ball. After they tired of this game, a challenge was issued among the workers to see if anyone could break the bowling ball. They selected a sledge hammer as the weapon of choice in this contest. The employee swung the sledge hammer and hit the bowling ball, which then cracked. Undaunted, he struck the ball a second time, causing a piece of the bowling ball to fly off and hit him in the eye. As a result, the employee sustained a laceration to his right eye, which resulted in the unfortunate loss of that eye.


The employer did not dispute that this injury occurred at the job site during working hours. However, the employer disputed that the employee was entitled to worker’s compensation benefits. The job foreman denied having any involvement in the challenge to break the bowling ball with the sledge hammer and, to the contrary, he testified that, in between the first and second strikes of the bowling ball, he told this employee to "knock it off, or stop." The foreman also testified that he warned the worker that he would not take him to the hospital if he hurt himself.


The employee sought worker's compensation benefits for his eye injury. The employer asserted the legal defense that a worker who violates a positive work order when the injury occurs is not eligible for benefits. In order to succeed on this defense, the employer must prove: (1) the injury was, in fact, caused by the violation of the order or rule (2) the employee actually knew of the order or rule and (3) the order or rule implicated an activity not connected with the employee's work duties.  Here, the injured employee struck the bowling ball with a sledge hammer, which shot a piece of the ball into his eye. The evidence supported the conclusion that the employee was specifically told by the foreman to "knock it off." The employee then struck the bowling ball after the foreman gave a directive to stop and issued a warning. Finally, the activity of hitting the bowling ball was clearly not connected to any work duties of these laborers. Because the employer established all of the elements necessary to prove that this injury had occurred after the employee violated a positive work order, the employee was not injured in the course and scope of his employment and he was precluded from receiving any worker’s compensation benefits.


A similar result was seen in the worker’s compensation case of Penn State University vs. Worker’s Compensation Appeal Board. In that case, an injured worker was found not to be eligible for benefits even though his injury occurred on company property during a lunch break. The worker was a cook with Penn State’s food service department, and he also performed some housekeeping duties in the summer. He was walking from a dorm building to eat lunch on campus when he intentionally jumped down a flight of stairs and injured both legs. His injuries included fractures of the legs and ankles.


An injury is compensable under the Worker’s Compensation Act only if the injury arises in the course of employment and is causally related to that employment. An injury may be sustained "in the course of employment" when the employee is actually engaged in furtherance of the employer's business or affairs. An injury also may be sustained "in the course of employment" where the employee, although not actually engaged in the furtherance of the employer's business or affairs: (a) is on the premises occupied or under the control of the employer or upon which the employer's business or affairs are being carried on; (b) is required by the nature of his employment to be present on the employer's premises; and ( c) sustains injuries caused by the condition of the premises or by operation of the employer's business or affairs.


The employer denied that the worker was entitled to benefits because the worker was not engaged in the employer’s business at the time of the injury. However, the law generally states that workers who remain on the employer’s premises for lunch and sustain an injury generally are considered to have been hurt in the furtherance of the employer’s business. Thus, such a worker would be entitled to benefits for those injuries. Nevertheless, each case must be examined to determine if the workers’ actions were such a departure as to be "wholly foreign to their employment". In this case, it was ruled that the worker’s action of jumping down the stairs cannot be viewed as furthering employer’s business or affairs. Thus, the employee was not entitled to worker’s compensation benefits.


If you have suffered a work injury, you should contact the Elderkin Law Firm immediately to discuss your eligibility for benefits and the proper submission of your claim for worker’s compensation benefits. To get answers to your questions about worker’s compensation benefits, call Attorney Craig A. Markham or Attorney Edward J. Betza at the Elderkin Law Firm at (814) 456-4000.

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