The law requires most employers to insure its workers against injury through workers' compensation. Workers' compensation gives benefits to workers who are injured arising out of the course of their employment. This prevents the need for the employee to enter into litigation with the employer to obtain compensation for medical bills and lost wages. The employer uses a third-party workers' compensation insurance carrier to pay both medical and disability benefits.
The type of injury covered by workers' compensation benefits can be quite broad. Essentially, any type of medical impairment is covered by workers' compensation, so long as it was obtained in the course of employment. This includes pre-existing conditions that are made worse through an on-the-job injury.
While simple in theory, complex issues of law and fact can arise.
A unique case considered by the Supreme Court of Iowa highlights some of the gray area surrounding workers' compensation claims. Two co-workers at Xenia Rural Water District had some unusual ways to say "Hello" to each other while working with their hands full. In this case, one of the coworkers with full hands "wiggled [his] butt" at a fellow employee in a truck to say hello. In response, the other coworker attempted to nudge him with the mirror of his truck. Unfortunately, he hit his co-worker with the bed of his truck instead. The employee hit was injured and sought workers' compensation benefits.
The "Horseplay" Defense
The question in the case was whether the injured worker was engaging in "horseplay," which is a defense that the employer can raise in order to deny workers' compensation benefits. The theory behind this defense is that, if a worker deviates too much from his or her regular job duties, then the employer should not be responsible for paying expenses for injury resulting from the horseplay. The Iowa Supreme Court stated that a court should consider the following when determining if an act counts as horseplay:
- How much the act deviated from regular employment duties
- Whether the deviation occurred while performing some or all of the job duties
- If the type of horseplay had become an accepted part of the employment; and
- Whether the employer should expect, because of the nature of the employment, some such horseplay
Ultimately, the Court held that factual questions remained, and it sent the case back to the trial court to make a determination whether the injury occurred in the course of employment.
If you sustained an injury at work, contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney to discuss your rights and options.