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From name-calling to fistfight to injuries: Will he get workers’ comp?

It might be difficult to keep some hot-heads from getting into physical fights at work. But if a fight leads to an injury, do you have to pay workers’ comp benefits? 

One factor made all the difference in this case.

Steven Washington and Lamar Rogers, employees of Gallo Mechanical Contractors in Louisiana, got into a fistfight on Dec. 7, 2015.

According to Rogers, he boarded a shuttle driven by Washington to go to a work site and Washington verbally harassed him. Rogers says Washington talked about his time in prison and how “the men would rape big guys like [Rogers] all the time.” Washington also used graphic language to describe the rape, according to Rogers.

Rogers says he told Washington to stop talking like that, and when he didn’t, he slapped Washington on the side of his head. That led to the fistfight.

That version of events was corroborated by another employee on the shuttle.

Washington suffered injuries to his head, neck, back and shoulders in the fight. He applied for workers’ comp.

Gallo refused to pay. It argued Washington caused the fight and it wasn’t work-related – it was personal.

An administrative law judge ruled in the company’s favor. Washington appealed to a state court.

Washington argues he was on the clock, being compensated for work and in the shuttle’s driver’s seat when the fight started, therefore he should get comp benefits.

The appeals court noted that in a previous opinion, it ruled that to determine if an injury arose out of employment, it’s necessary to separate incidents attributable to employment risks from those that come from personal risks. It noted several previous cases involving workplace violence:

  • A nurse was on her way to work when she was stabbed in the elevator by an unknown assailant. The court found the nurse wasn’t in the course of her employment because she hadn’t reached her work station to begin her work duties.
  • Two workers got into a fistfight over instructions given to a work crew. The court found the injuries were caused or related to employment.
  • Two workers got into a physical fight over which one had authority over the other. The court said the injury arose out of a dispute over work.
  • Two workers got into a fight over one taking over some of the other’s delivery routes and compensation for them. Again, this was found to be work-related.

In Washington’s case, his crude remarks to Rogers were found to be a personal attack.

The appeals court ruled the trial judge correctly concluded that the fistfight between Washington and Rogers was personal in nature, therefore it didn’t arise out of employment. Washington won’t get workers’ comp benefits.

(Steven Frederick Washington v. Gallo Mechanical Contractors LLC, Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Louisiana, No. 2016-CA-1251, 5/17/17)

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