Can Someone Receive Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Injuries Sustained in a Fight?

As you are probably aware, in order for an injury to be covered by workers’ compensation, there must be a causal relationship between the injuries and the employee’s job duties.  Specifically, Ohio courts require both that the injury occur “In the Course” of Employment ( looking at the time, place, and circumstances of the accident); and that the injuries “Arise out of” Employment” (applying what is known as the “Totality of the Circumstances Test” and looking at the proximity of the accident to the where the employee usually performed her job duties, the control the employer exercised over the scene of the accident, and the benefit the employer enjoyed as a result of the employee’s presence at the scene of the accident).

The particulars of those two tests are too detailed to get into in one blog post (which I try to keep short and to the point).  However, having recently spoken on this issue, and given my sincere concern for conservation of resources (my own mental resources that is), today I’m going to focus on just one narrow part the issue, workplace fights.

When a fight is attributable to the employment in its inception, injuries sustained as a result of the fight are generally covered under workers’ compensation. If the work related dispute is discontinued, and resumed later as a personal altercation, injuries sustained as the result of the fight would not be covered.  Here are some examples from Ohio court decisions.  My favorite one comes first.

* Although the fight occurred on the job site, the disagreement did not involve work-related matter because the argument resulted from a personal dispute over beer. Injuries sustained as a result of the fight were not  coveredLowe v. Cox Paving, Inc., 2010-Ohio-3816.

Some other examples include:

* An employee who was told by his supervisor to get a piece of equipment.  Another employee refused to turn over the equipment, and the two men got into an argument.  One employee then struck the other over the head with a shovel.  Because the dispute arose from a work related matter, the employee’s injuries were covered. Indus. Comm. v. Pora (1919), 100 Ohio St. 218.

* An employee pulled into the company parking lot and got into an altercation with a non-employee who was dropping his wife off at work. Injuries sustained as the result of that fight were not covered because the dispute leading up to the assault was not related to employee’s work duties. Garner v. Ohio Bur. Of Workers’ Comp., 2018-Ohio-3398

*Two employees engaged in horseplay that resulted in spilled coffee. One employee then left to work on his personal vehicle, with his employer’s permission, and the other employee assaulted him.  The employee who was assaulted received workers’ compensation benefits for his injuries.  Meager v. Complete Auto Transit, Inc., 1992 WL 41831.  The court’s basis for that decision was that the injury occurred on the employer’s property, and that the employer allowed the employee to work on his personal vehicle while at work.  This case is, admittedly, an exception to the general rule.

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