Missouri Industrial Commission affirms award to police officer for off-duty fitness training injury
Austin Reiter v. Kansas City Police Department, April 12, 2018 (click HERE to read the entire decision)
A Kansas City Police Officer fell and injured his knee while participating in an off-duty activity that involved running through an obstacle course. If officers could demonstrate a proficiency in navigating the obstacle course within a specific time frame, officers would be awarded 2 days of paid vacation.
Running through this obstacle course is completely voluntary and is not required in any way by the Kansas City Police Department. Also, as a condition to participate in this program, employees were required to sign the following statement:
“I understand that any injury or illness suffered as a result of my participation in [employer’s Aerobics Program or Physical Fitness Award Program] will be treated as a NON-DUTY RELATED INJURY.”
The Industrial Commission found the knee injury to be compensable.
Voluntary Recreational Activity Defense Rejected
Employer argued that this activity was a voluntary recreational activity and was therefore non-compensable under §287.120.7. The Commission disagreed, stating:
“In our view, activities designed and incentivized by an employer, engaged in on the
employer’s premises, with the specific purpose of enhancing an employee’s job
performance, which activities are not entertaining, refreshing, or restorative, are not
recreational. Because employer has failed to persuasively demonstrate, as a factual
matter, that employee’s participation in a recreational activity or program was the
prevailing cause of employee’s injury, our analysis under §287.120.7 ends here.”
Waiver of Benefits Defense Rejected
Employer also argued that claimant agreed in advance that any injury that occurred during the use of the obstacle course would be a non-work-related injury. The Commission again disagreed, stating:
“To the extent employer advances employee’s signature on its Exhibit 2 as precluding
employee from filing a workers’ compensation claim, employer is, in effect, arguing that
employee waived his rights under Chapter 287 when he signed Exhibit 2. We are not,
however, authorized to give effect to such an agreement, because §287.390.1 RSMo
plainly declares that “no agreement by an employee or his or her dependents to waive
his or her rights under this chapter shall be valid[.]” Accordingly, we conclude the
purported waiver is not valid, and is of no effect in this proceeding whatsoever.”
WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT THIS DECISION?
First, until the Missouri Governor appoints new members to this plaintiff-driven Commission, injuries that occur during wellness programs, fitness programs, lunch activities, or even while using gym equipment on the employer’s premises – – most such injuries will be deemed compensable.
Also, I am often asked about whether having claimants sign comp waivers will shield the employer from comp liability. While such a waiver can dissuade an injured employee from filing a questionable claim, the waiver will not be a valid defense to a filed claim.
I do have some ideas on how to how to craft wellness programs and recreational activities to minimize comp liability, and if you would like to discuss how to apply this to any current situations please feel free to call or email.
J. Bradley Young
Harris Dowell Fisher & Young L.C.
15400 South Outer 40, Suite 202
Chesterfield, MO 63017
Work: (636) 532-0300
Fax: (636) 532-0246
Cell: (314) 406-3095
Email: [email protected]