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Injury sustained during smoke break not compensable

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A City of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, employee who fell out of a city truck in a coughing fit suffered while smoking his first e-cigarette was not injured within the scope of his employment, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in Raleigh ruled Tuesday.

In October 2015, Larry Brooks was employed by the city as a senior crew coordinator in the utilities department when he ventured into a convenience store on his break to purchase an e-cigarette for the first time, according to court documents in Brooks v. City of Winston-Salem.

Mr. Brooks subsequently smoked the e-cigarette while sitting inside the vehicle despite the city’s tobacco-free policy while in city buildings and property, records state. He began coughing “uncontrollably” and “in order to get some fresh air, he opened the vehicle’s door and stepped out of the truck while continuing to cough. Brooks then passed out and fell to the ground. He landed on the cement curb, causing injury to his right hip, back, and head,” records state.

Mr. Brooks suffered several bone fractures and was assigned light-duty work restrictions, which prevented him from returning to work in his prior position, records state.

The city denied his workers compensation application. Mr. Brooks filed an appeal with the North Carolina Industrial Commission, which ruled in favor of the city. He appealed, and the state appellate court affirmed that decision, ruling that Mr. Brooks suffered from a condition related to his smoking and that his “fall resulted from his own idiopathic condition and was not caused by a hazard of his employment.”