An employee was injured when she got into a fist fight while on a workplace shuttle bus. Can she get workers’ comp benefits for her injuries?
Ann Belaska was a clerk for the New York State Department of Law.
In September 2009, she was involved in a fist fight with another passenger on a shuttle bus to ride to a satellite parking lot.
At the end of the bus ride, a passenger tried to exit before Belaska who told the other rider to let her go first because of her disabilities. When the other passenger became frustrated because Belaska wasn’t getting off the bus fast enough, they got into a verbal spat which turned into the fist fight, resulting in Belaska’s injuries.
Belaska suffered injuries to her chest, neck and shoulder and sought workers’ compensation benefits for her physical injuries as well as for post traumatic stress disorder.
Her employer’s insurance carrier denied her claim. The Workers’ Compensation Board agreed with the insurance company and ruled the injuries did not arise out of Belaska’s employment.
Belaska took her case to a state appeals court.
Was it ‘personal animosity?’
The appeals court noted previous case law established that:
“injuries stemming from an assault which arose in the course of employment are presumed to have arisen out of the employment unless substantial evidence is presented that the assault was motivated by purely personal animosity.”
Belaska said she had never before met the person who assaulted her.
Given that fact, the court said the assault arose from personal hostilities unrelated to her job.
The appeals court agreed Belaska should not get workers’ comp benefits for her injuries that resulted from the assault.
Given the court’s ruling, other types of assaults would be covered. For example:
- a store clerk beaten in a robbery, and
- a hospital worker assaulted by an out-of-control patient.
Has your company ever had a workers’ comp claim because of a physical fight involving an employee? Let us know about it in the comments below.
(Belaska v. New York State Department of Law, Appellate Div. of NY Supreme Court, No. 513147 6/21/12)