Brief Fact Summary. The Rhode Island Workmen’s Compensation Commission denied an employee’s request for compensation and dismissed his petition. Petitioner employee sought review of the decision.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. To recover for work-related injuries pursuant to worker’s compensation law, a claimant need only establish that the injury arose out of and in the course of employment; a nexus or causal connection between the injury and the employment must be shown. It is entirely reasonable and natural that workers will indulge in momentary diversion to play a prank. When it is accomplished on the employer’s premises, with a temporary instrumentality furnished by the employer and readily available, it becomes a risk of the employment and part and parcel of the employment.
Issue. Is an employee who is injured while on the job, even in the course of work place horseplay, nevertheless entitled to workman’s compensation for his injuries?
Held. Yes. The Court held that common law views regarding worker’s compensation rights were outdated due to replacement by statutory regulation the scope and intent of which have broadened to include even injuries that occur when employees are engaged in rough-housing or horseplay so long as the activity is nominally connected to the claimant’s employment. The Court sustained the employee’s appeal and vacated the Commission’s decree. The cause was remanded to the Commission for further proceedings.
Discussion. The Court notes the transition from common law applications to the modern, codified approach to governing work injury-related compensation. As the Court pointed out, “The primary purpose of workmen’s compensation is to provide economic assistance to an employee who is injured and thereby suffers a loss of earnings; such legislation is intended to impose upon the employer the burden of taking care of the casualties occurring in his employment.” Worker’s compensation acts have broadened the scope and intent of coverage, thus, “[A] worker need no longer be free from fault to receive compensation. Decisions and commentaries on the issue of ‘horseplay’ in workmen’s compensation cases have taken the position that injuries are compensable for the ‘participant’ as well as the ‘innocent victim’ under certain conditions.” The Court considers human nature in its analysis, observing, “When people are placed together and are in close association with one another in performing their wo
rk there is a natural instinct to fool around and play pranks on one another. Such activity is part of the work environment, an incident of the employment.” Hence, the Court pointed out, “The injured claimant should not be denied compensation merely because of his participation in ‘horseplay.’ To hold that an injury arises out of the employment if it is inflicted on a workman attentive to duty by the sportive conduct of a fellow-employee, but that it does not so arise if the injured workman participates, however slightly, in the sport is to draw a distinction based on the injured workman’s fault.” The Court thus concluded, “It is entirely reasonable and natural that workers will indulge in momentary diversion to play a prank. When it is accomplished on the employer’s premises, with a temporary instrumentality furnished by the employer and readily available, it becomes a risk of the employment and part and parcel of the employment.”