An injury suffered by a worker playing laser tag as part of the company's annual sales conference is entitled to workers' compensation benefits. So ruled the North Carolina Court of Appeals in a decision affirming the Industrial Commission's ruling that the injury occurred while the worker was on the job.
The Injury was "Job-Related"
The company had appealed the Commission's finding that the injury was job-related citing various precedent involving injuries during leisure activities at work-sponsored events that resulted in denied claims. The Appellate Court rejected the company's arguments about whether the injury was job-related because the company:
(1) specifically required its employees to attend the event;
(2) encouraged their participation in the laser tag activity; and
(3) derived a business benefit from the Conference as a whole (of which the outing to Sports Connection was an “essential part”) and from the team-building and networking opportunities generated thereby....
thus distinguishing this situation from cases cited by the defense. The court also noted: "None of those cases involved a situation where the employee's attendance was expressly mandated at the event in question or where the employer received a benefit from the event beyond an intangible improvement to employee morale."
The Injury was by "Accident"
The company also challenged the Industrial Commission's finding that the worker was injured by an "accident" as required for most compensable injuries, on the grounds that the injured worker could not say when exactly his knee injury occurred during the laser tag game. The Appellate panel affirmed the Commission's findings of fact on this issue:
(1) “these activities were not activities [Plaintiff] normally performed as a Territory Manager/Outside Sales Representative for Defendant-Employer”; and
(2) the act of playing laser tag “constituted an interruption of Plaintiff's regular work routine and the introduction of unusual conditions likely to result in unexpected consequences.”
An injury by accident, in the context of workers' compensation, is something outside the ordinary workday of the worker. (In order of an injury to qualify as a compensable injury under workers' comp, "the injury must involve more than the employee's performance of his or her usual and customary duties in the usual way.") For instance, if the worker's job is to pile boxes every day and one day he claims to feel back pain but nothing out of the ordinary happened, the claim might be denied. In this case, the mere fact that the worker, essentially a salesperson, found himself playing laser tag in the course of his employment, was found to be enough of an anomolistic event to constitute the "accident" required to satisfy workers' compensation requirements. "Plaintiff's testimony that he felt a 'sharp pain' in his leg approximately 15 minutes into the activity and that he 'could tell something was wrong' once he attempted to move from his position was sufficiently specific to demonstrate that the injury he suffered was neither a mere 'gradual build-up of pain'" ruled the court, citing precedent.
In this case, months after the injury, and after arthroscopic surgery (that did not cause him to miss work) the worker was laid off as part of a company reorganization. When his knee troubles later re-appeared, he sought a second medical opinion and was diagnosed with need for a total knee replacement. The commission found that the injury constituted a "total temporary" disability as of the date of the knee replacement, and ordered that the company's workers' compensation insurance pay for the time he was unable to work as well as the cost of medical expenses. The insurance company also challenged the date of disability finding, unsuccessfully.
This case demonstrates the importance of creating a solid record, including the circumstances surrounding the worker's participation in what could have easily been dismissed as leisure activity not covered by workers' comp.
If you have been injured in a work-related accident, give us a call. The North Carolina workers' compensation attorneys at Edelstein & Payne accept cases from all over the state, and comp consultations are always free of charge.