Hurt in an Altercation at Work? Who Pays for Your Care?
What started out as a minor disagreement, turned ugly. If you suffered injuries as a result of an altercation at work, you might be concerned. Will you receive workers’ compensation benefits?
When you suffer an on the job injury, you have certain expectations from your employer. Under New Jersey workers’ compensation laws, authorized medical care becomes a primary concern. Of course, you’ll also anticipate temporary disability benefits.
Additionally, a work-related injury could have long-lasting effects. You don’t have to be totally disabled to receive an award for permanent disability. New Jersey laws allow injured workers to recover money for a partial permanent disability.
Understanding the benefits represents just one part of the equation. According to NJSA 34:15-7, the law provides workers’ compensation to employees for “accident(s) arising out of and in the course of employment.”
In some cases, an altercation at work turns in to a flow blown assault. For example, insured officers receive full pay when they’re assaulted at work. However, what happens when it’s co-workers that get into a fight? How does their disagreement become a workers’ compensation claim?
Compensation Benefits for an Altercation at Work
Earlier this month, the New Jersey Appellate Division decided the case of Bhut v. Shapes. The court notes that the matter remains unpublished and therefore specifically applies to the named parties. Its use in other cases remains limited.
For clarification, injured workers are petitioners in workers’ compensation cases; their employers are respondents.
Arvind Bhut began working for Aluminum Shapes in 2014 to fix manufacturing equipment in its plant. That said, Arvind’s 2017 shoulder injury didn’t occur while he worked on machines. Instead, it arose from an incident in the employee locker room.
According to Arvind, when he walked into the locker room, he found his co-worker John Stephens had his feet up on a bench. Arvind asked John to move his legs so he could pass by. When John refused, Arvind jumped over him, and his feet became entangled between his co-worker’s legs.
Arvind testified he left the room after John threw a cup a soda at him. He returned to the locker room to wash his hands. At some point, he ran into John in a small walkway, and the altercation continued. The co-worker pushed a pizza box in Arvind’s direction, who swung his arm to avoid contact.
Although the petitioner denied he intended to harm his co-worker, he knocked his hat off. Subsequently, John threw Arvind to the floor and caused him to hurt his shoulder.
In the meantime, John presented a different version of events. For starters, he claimed Arvind never asked him to move his legs. Instead, the petitioner pushed them and kicked them aside. The soda actually spilled when Arvind stepped in front of him.
John further testified that a couple of co-workers separated the two when their conversation became “heated.” Additionally, John denied pushing the pizza box and claimed he reacted to the petitioner hitting him in the back of the head.
Casual Connection between the Altercation and Employment
What’s your first inclination as you read this? Many people opine that two co-workers got into a fight that had nothing to do with work. However, the workers’ compensation judge and the NJ Appellate agreed. They found a causal connection between the altercation and the petitioner’s employment.
It’s not just that the incident occurred on the employer’s premises. The court found “that the work of the participants brought them together and created the relations and conditions which resulted in the clash.”
Both Arvind and John admitted they had no contact outside of work. Additionally, neither intentionally set out to hurt the other. Therefore, workers’ compensation laws provided the exclusive remedy for Arvind’s injuries. The court awarded him medical and temporary disability benefits of $15,583.54, as well as $300 in costs.