I was injured at work while horsing around with a coworker; can I still file a workers’ comp claim?

Question:

I work in a warehouse. Sometimes my coworker and I get bored and goof around at work. We wrestle, race each other, or compete in obstacle courses. Lately, a bunch of our coworkers have been egging us on, and it’s become a regular event that people come down to watch. A couple of weeks ago, during one of these events, I twisted my ankle pretty badly. I’ve been in a lot of pain and haven’t been able to work. Can I file a workers’ comp claim?

Answer:

In general, injuries that happen during horseplay at work are not covered by workers’ comp. The workers’ comp system is intended to compensate employees for work-related injuries, and most states have found that horseplay falls outside the scope of employment.

However, there are a few narrow exceptions to this rule. In some states, there is an exception where the employer is found to have condoned the horseplay. For example, if a supervisor was one of the people egging you on, you may be able to recover for your injuries. Or, if you can show that it was well known among management that you were engaging in horseplay and your employer did nothing to stop it, this might allow you to recover benefits as well.

In other states, the degree of the horseplay is important in determining whether you can file a claim. These states distinguish between horseplay that is momentary and insignificant and horseplay that is a significant deviation from the work duties. For example, an employee who is injured while making a playful kicking motion at a coworker might still be eligible for workers’ comp benefits. On the other hand, an employee who stops work to perform elaborate tricks at the workplace might not be able to recover for his or her injuries.

Whether or not the horseplay you engaged in disqualifies you from receiving workers’ comp benefits depends on several factors, and insurance companies often deny these types of claims as a matter of routine. You should consult with an experienced workers’ comp lawyer to find out your likelihood success and whether you should pursue a claim.

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