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Workers Comp Decisions Define Irony

Irony is truly all around us.  For example, did you know that the Bible is the most shoplifted book in America?  How about this – – Sweden’s famous Ice Hotel is required by law to have operational smoke detectors.  You may not know that in medical terminology, the condition of not being able to pronounce the letter R is called…”rhotacism.”

Consider the picture below, where the banner reads: “Cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances”.  Shouldn’t the psychic have seen this coming?

Since we’re discussing psychics, I drove past a psychic’s place of business during a recent Senatorial Election.  In front of the psychic’s office there was a yard sign supporting the candidate who then lost the election.  Why did the psychic support the candidate that he should have known would lose?

Irony, though, is not limited to inept psychics and bible burglars.  In August, 2017, the Missouri Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (the first-level appeal for workers compensation awards) rendered a decision in a claim where the claimant was injured while she was playing basketball during her lunch break.  This, by the way, is maddening for those who defend comp claims for a living. Unless you play for the NBA or the WNBA, should a worker be allowed to get workers compensation benefits for injuries that occur while playing basketball?  In Missouri, as well as other states, apparently so.

So the first level of irony here is that a claimant was held to be entitled to workers compensation benefits while playing.  By definition, one must be working to be entitled to workers compensations benefits, right?  And yet, it seems to me that “playing” and “working” are mutually exclusive.  I know that when I’m working I usually want to be playing, and when I’m playing I usually feel guilty because I’m not working.  But rarely, if ever, am I playing and working at the same time (I can say this because I don’t play golf).

Despite this paradoxical conundrum, the irony goes on.  You see, the claimant’s job required her to wear slip-resistant shoes.  According to the facts of the case, the claimant’s injury was caused by her foot being stuck on the blacktop surface of the basketball court due to slip-resistant shoes the employer required her to wear.  She then slipped and fell, causing an injury to her ankle.  You already see where this is going…the Industrial Commission found the injury to be compensable using the following logic:

“We conclude that the employee has demonstrated the nexus needed to show that her injury, the result of playing basketball while wearing slip-resistant work shoes, was due to a hazard or risk related to her employment.”

Not only was the claimant apparently “working” while she was in fact “playing”, but the Industrial Commission found the claim to be compensable because the claimant slipped on the basketball court while wearing non-slip shoes!

Or how about this…last year, in Pennsylvania, a workers’ compensation judge penalized a company for failing to comply with the workers compensation act regarding an injured worker.  This is not necessarily an uncommon finding.  However, the court also determined that the company was NOT, in fact, the worker’s employer.

So, let me summarize: workers who are playing are nevertheless working and entitled to workers comp benefits.  Workers who slip while wearing non-slip shoes are also entitled to benefits because the slip was caused by non-slip shoes.  An Employer who isn’t even an employer can be penalized for not following the workers compensation act that only applies to employers!

This type of logic, my friends, demonstrates how state offices that govern our workers compensation laws often make as much sense as a barber shop that caters to bald men.  Which reminds me, speaking of irony, can someone tell me why should I have to pay full price for a haircut?

J. BRADLEY YOUNG is a partner with the St. Louis, Missouri law firm of Harris, Dowell, Fisher & Young, where he is the manager of the Worker’s Compensation Defense Group and represents self-insured companies and insurance carriers in the defense of workers’ compensation claims in both Missouri and Illinois. Brad is a frequent Conference Speaker and can be regularly heard on KMOX radio in St. Louis discussing a wide variety of legal topics. You can email Brad at [email protected] .