What Happens if You’re Hurt While Breaking Up a Fight at Work?
You might have done it on instinct. Or, thought that breaking up fights at work is one of your responsibilities. However, what happens if you’re hurt in the process? Can you make a workers’ compensation claim?
It’s an interesting discussion. For one, some altercations at work fall under the category of horseplay. NJSA 34:15-7.1 provides the statutory language concerning horseplay or skylarking on the part of co-workers. Workers’ compensation benefits may be recoverable as a result of injuries from either event, with a caveat. Essentially, it boils down to two things. If an employee instigates horseplay or was involved in it, he or she can’t collect workers’ comp. However, what makes a fight at work horseplay?
Are All Fights at Work Horseplay?
The definition of horseplay can be subjective. Some view it simply as clowning around of the job. The term foolishness comes to mind. Surely, the idea of doing something nonsensical or useless while at work sounds like horseplay. Others say rough play equates to horseplay.
Surely horseplay should have been a consideration in a recent New Jersey Appellate Court opinion. The court’s decision was unpublished, meaning that it just applied to the parties involved in the court proceeding.
The case involves members of a volunteer fire department in central Jersey. They were scheduled for training exercises at a county emergency services academy. Jamie Benimadho was one of the volunteer firefighters who came to the facility to take part in the classes.
When Jamie arrived, he noticed two other volunteers involved in an altercation in the parking lot. In fact, one of the individuals had the other in a headlock. Jamie knew both of the parties and felt they were engaged in a real fight. He, therefore, decided it was his responsibility to break them up.
In the process of attempting to stop the fight, Jamie grabbed one of the parties around the waist. In doing so, that individual released his first “victim” from his hold. He subsequently placed Jamie into a headlock. When Jamie was ultimately freed from the hold, he appeared to fall back and faint. As a result, Jamie’s head hit the pavement; he suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Jamie made a workers’ compensation benefits claim. It was his contention that his intentions in stopping the fight were part of his duties as a firefighter. Jamie did not feel that he or the other two individuals were involved in horseplay. Rather, he felt it was his duty as a firefighter to “protect citizens.” Jamie admitted that he saw the incident as a bullying incident and it was his obligation to break up the fight.
Breaking Up Fights: Work Duty?
As we return to this particular case, the critical issue was actually whether it was Jamie’s work duty to stop what he saw as a dangerous altercation. Certainly, no superior official directed Jamie to intervene. And, Jamie was not in training to become a police officer.
However, Jamie’s attorney brought up the language of his particular fire department’s mission statement. In short, it professed that it was the administration’s goal to: “protect the lives and property of the citizens.” Jamie reasoned that he was doing so by breaking up what he viewed as a bullying incident. Again, he felt it was part of his job.
As a reminder, the court did not consider this matter as an issue of horseplay. Instead, the focus was entirely on whether Jamie intervention in the fight was regarded as a work duty.
In the end, both the lower court and the Appellate Division ruled against Janie’s entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits. Not one of Jamie’s superiors directed him to intervene in the fight. Also, the court did not view Jamie’s actions as a “serious rescue attempt borne from a real or perceived danger.”
After consideration of the facts, the court did not find that Jamie’s injuries were in the course of his employment. Therefore, the workers’ compensation carrier was not obligated to pay him benefits.
The Rules of Workers’ Compensation are subject to interpretation. Some work altercations may be viewed as a part of employment. Rather than make your own decision that your injuries are not compensable, it is always smart to review the facts with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Anthony Carbone to see how we can assist you!