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Horseplay liability


Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. is on the hook for a horseplay injury occurring during a company team-building event, an Ohio appeals court recently decided.

Coca-Cola tried to overturn a trial court finding favoring the claimant, an account manager who suffered a neck injury in 2007, during a river canoe outing, according the appeals court decision in Chad A. Kelly v. Marsha P. Ryan.

Coca-Cola argued that the trial court erred by instructing the jury that even if it found the claimant instigated or participated in horseplay causing his injury, he was entitled to comp benefits so long as the employer acquiesced or consented to the horseplay.

Coca-Cola said the jury instructions were contrary to law.

But Ohio's 12th Appellate District Court didn't buy Coca-Cola's argument. It found the jury instructions were proper given a previous court finding that injuries occurring during horseplay are compensable when carried out with “knowledge and consent or acquiescence of the employer.”

The appeals court also rejected Coca-Cola's argument that a doctor's testimony should have been excluded.

A quick Google search using “horseplay” and “workers compensation” shows courts in various states have ruled differently on the issue. Some states don't allow compensation for horseplay injuries, even in some cases where an injured worker is not a willing participant.

Other states do, but some look to the degree of participation by the injured claimant and whether they instigated the horseplay.

Lynch Ryan's Workers' Comp Insider blog reported on horseplay and compensation while providing some good advice on the issue in a 2006 posting available here.

The Lynch Ryan posting reported on a Colorado appeals court decision favoring the claimant. But the posting also pointed out that humor at work can be a good thing.

But horseplay often crosses a line, putting workers at risk of injury. So management should intervene as quickly as possible to stop it, according to the Lynch Ryan posting.

In the Coca-Cola case discussed above it appears that a manager who organized the team-building event instigated the horseplay.

Now to transition from horseplay to goat work, reports that a U.S. Postal Service rural delivery worker pled guilty to cheating the government out of $60,000 in comp benefits. She earned $9,000 by selling goats while out of work with an arm injury.

One reader commented that selling goats is no more a job than selling a lawnmower you are not using. The reader obviously is not a claims adjuster.