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Game of laser tag leads to workers comp benefits

Posted On: Aug. 19, 2015 12:00 AM CST

A North Carolina man who injured his knee playing laser tag during a mandatory company conference is entitled to workers comp benefits, a North Carolina appellate court has ruled.

Timothy W. Holliday, a 54-year-old former territory manager and outside sales representative for Tropical Nut & Fruit Co. in Asheville, North Carolina, attended the company's annual three-day national sales and marketing conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, in August 2011, court records show. Participation was mandatory and he was paid his normal salary for attending.

At the conference, Tropical Nut & Fruit “discussed the past year's sales, introduced new products, held training sessions, discussed prospective strategies for the company, presented end-of-year awards, and provided an opportunity for the employees to meet vendors as well as colleagues who worked for Tropical in various other locations,” records show.

On the first night of the conference, attendees were assigned to participate in recreational activities paid for by the company, according to records. About 15 minutes into a game of laser tag, Mr. Holliday felt sharp pains in his right leg. He told his general manager that he hurt his right knee, applied ice and attended the rest of the conference.

According to records, he saw an orthopedist upon returning home and an MRI revealed tears to the knee's medial meniscus and lateral meniscus.

In October 2011, Mr. Holliday underwent arthroscopic right knee surgery, records show. He was able to continue performing his job duties, but he was laid off in July 2012 due to a companywide restructuring.

An orthopedic specialist later recommended a total knee replacement, according to records.

Mr. Holliday filed a workers comp claim in connection with his August 2011 injury, but Tropical Nut & Fruit denied his request for benefits, records show.

A deputy commissioner of the North Carolina Industrial Commission concluded in August 2013 that Mr. Holliday “sustained a compensable right knee injury on August 18, 2011, which required surgical correction and ultimate knee replacement, which were both necessitated by the aggravation caused by his laser tag injury,” and that he was temporarily totally disabled, according to records.

Mr. Holliday was awarded temporary total disability benefits and Tropical Nut & Fruit was ordered to provide “any medical treatment reasonably required to effect a cure and provide relief for his right knee injury,” records show.

Tropical Nut & Fruit appealed to the full North Carolina Industrial Commission, which affirmed the deputy commissioner's decision.

The company appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, arguing that participation in the laser tag event was not mandatory, and that it was a “fun outing” that didn't provide any benefit to them, according to records.

A sales manager and another employee of Tropical Nut & Fruit, however, testified that employees were required to attend all portions of the conference, the ruling states.

On appeal, the appellate court on Tuesday affirmed the commission's award.

Testimony also supported the commission's finding that recreational events, including laser tag, were essential parts of the conference and served a business purpose for Tropical Nut & Fruit, according to the ruling.