Not all “work related” accidents are covered under Oregon work comp system

Generally, any accident while at work is covered under Oregon’s workers’ compensation insurance protection – but there are exceptions. Two decisions of the Workers’ Compensation Board in July 2008 show the difficulty deciding when, and why, an injury is “work related.”

In the first case, Cheyenne J. Anderson (July 8, 2008), an administrative judge had denied a claim of a gas station attendant who broke his ankle while “play boxing” with a co-worker. Business was slow when Anderson grabbed the co-worker, fell, and was hurt.

The judge denied the claim because she concluded the circumstances fell under the exception for “horseplay” – conduct that is not allowed by an employer and that has no relationship to work. But the Board disagreed because all workers – evan the manager – frequently “horsed around” when business was slow. The Board explained:

“Mild horsing around, including chasing other employees, was not infrequent, and had culminated in an employee tackling a coworker. Particularly during lulls or slow periods, employees (and sometimes the manager) would pass the time by engaging in minor diversions, such as shooting rubber bands or attempting to knock a cup from a shelf with a ‘glove ball.’ We find that claimant’s quick grabbing of his coworker is sufficiently similar to these commonly practiced activities as to remain within the course of his employment.”

In the second case, Shawn C. Martin (July 14, 2008), a customer services representative for a large company who was running late was injured when she slipped in a puddle while unloading food from her car at a loading dock. Normally she would not have parked near the dock, but a manager had permitted it so she would not be tardy. The employer denied the claim because this activity had no direct relationship to the work she had been hired to do, and she was not in the employee parking lot (which is considered to part of the “work place”).

The Board allowed the claim because, although unexpected, the injury was “incidental” to the job. They reasoned:

“Here, just before her injury, claimant had received permission from her team manager to place her personal food items in a refrigerator to facilitate beginning her shift on time. Thus, minutes before her shift, claimant was engaged in activities on the employer’s premises in preparation for the timely beginning of her shift. Because those activities were expressly permitted by the employer and were related to starting her shift, we find that they were reasonably incidental to her employment. Accordingly, we conclude that claimant’s ‘personal’ activity did not sever the connection with her employment.”

Many injuries occur at work when not performing actual assigned tasks. Slipping in a puddle, tripping on a carpet, or even eating in a lunch room or on a break may be sufficiently “work related” to allow a claim. But these claims often are denied by insurance companies because of the exceptions for “horseplay” or “personal activity.” In nearly all, the unique facts will determine whether the claim is allowed. A worker’s legal right to a full and impartial hearing of those facts often is the only way to have the claim accepted.

To learn how the attorneys at Cary Wing Edmunson P.C. can assist you, please call our office at 541-485-0203 or Toll Free at 1-800-624-4406.

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