Safety and OSHA News

Is company liable for injury due to horseplay?

This worker wasn’t able to go back to his job after suffering injuries when he was tackled during horseplay. The injured worker sued the employer. Is the employer liable? 

Wayne Booth was a truck driver employed as an independent-contract hauler for Southern Hens Inc. in Mississippi.

On Oct. 30, 2012, Booth went to Southern Hens to pick up a trailer. While waiting for paperwork, Southern Hens employee Jerome Caldwell grabbed Booth from behind his midsection in a “bear hug.” Caldwell shoved Booth against some boxes and pushed him through a doorway onto a stack of pallets.

Booth was told that Caldwell was “just playing.” However, Booth suffered serious injuries to his back that required medical treatment. He wasn’t able to return to work due to the injuries. Caldwell was terminated as a result of the incident.

Booth sued Southern Hens, claiming negligence and failure to supervise and control its employees. Southern Hens filed for summary judgment. A trial court granted the company’s request and threw out Booth’s lawsuit. He appealed.

In reviewing Booth’s case, a Mississippi appeals court noted an employer is liable for an employee’s actions done in the course and scope of his employment. Conduct isn’t considered in the course and scope of employment when it’s not authorized, doesn’t serve the purposes of the employer, or is a “wrongful deed” committed when an employee “abandons” employment.

The appeals court found the trial court correctly found that Caldwell’s conduct in bear-hugging Booth and shoving him into a stack of pallets was outside the course and scope of Caldwell’s employment duties – loading and unloading shipments. Since it’s not within the course and scope of Caldwell’s employment, Southern Hens can’t be liable for it, the court ruled.

Mississippi case law also says a premises owner must protect an invitee from “reasonably foreseeable injuries at the hands of another.”

The appeals court found Caldwell’s actions weren’t “reasonably foreseeable.” The incident occurred without warning in a matter of seconds. Caldwell didn’t have a history of dangerous or violent tendencies at work.

Also important: Southern Hens’ had safety rules that specifically prohibited fighting, physically threatening others, “horseplay,” and practical joking. Records showed Caldwell signed a checklist stating he understood horseplay wasn’t tolerated.

Therefore, the appeals court upheld the trial court’s ruling to throw out Booth’s lawsuit.

Note: Booth did receive workers’ comp benefits for wage replacement and medical treatment from his employer, Whitestone Trucking.

(Wayne Booth v. Southern Hens Inc., Court of Appeals of Mississippi, No. 2016-CA-01068-COA, 2/13/18)

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  1. Tom Rezner, Ph.D.,SPHR, CSM says:

    Since Booth was a contract hauler the Workers comp immunity would not be applicable. Southern Hens is always responsible for its employees actions and what they do on its property. The only 2 ways they would be not responsible is if Booth started the event or if the contract prevented him from suing them. There is no indication that these things come into to play. Hence Southern Hens is on the hook for Booth’s injury and needs to pay.

  2. At what point in this countries future, do we start holding individuals responsible for their individual actions? That includes injuries, horseplay or any other actions? 85% of injuries in the work place are human error, not the company’s error. Short cuts, bad habits, laziness, lack of attention to detail…..the list goes on. You can paint as many lines, put as many lights, horns, whistles at a cross walk, your not going to keep people from walking out there illegally and unattentative until you start holding them accountable, not the driver who hit him. Where does the true problems lie.

    • Tom Rezner, Ph.D.,SPHR, CSM says:

      Drivers are always responsible for the safe operation of their vehicle. There are exceptions but they are very rare. Those usually are cases when the driver is doing everything right and someone does something really stupid and dangerous and gets hit.

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