Safety and OSHA News

Worker attacked by snack machine sues for comp

An employee helps a co-worker get a stuck bag of chips out of a workplace vending machine and in the process fractures his hip. Does he get workers’ comp or not?

The employee got comp. Here’s what happened:

Clinton Dwyer was working at a Circuit City when a co-worker asked him to help her get a stuck bag of chips out of a vending machine.

There was a history of snacks not dropping down from the machine’s spindles. Employees would shake the machine to dislodge the stuck snack.

Dwyer shook the machine twice, but no luck.

Then, he took a step back and gave a hockey-player-like check to the machine with his shoulder.

Next thing, Dwyer was on the ground in pain. He fractured his hip in the process of trying to retrieve the snack.

Doctors operated on him that day for the fractured hip. Years after the incident he still feels pain in humid weather and after a certain amount of exertion.

He filed for workers’ comp, and Circuit City fought it.

Did personal comfort doctrine apply?

The state Workers’ Comp Commission awarded him comp, saying the personal comfort doctrine applied.

That doctrine says at-work employee actions for personal comfort — such as eating or using the restroom — are covered by workers’ comp.

Circuit City took the case to the state appellate court.

The court said Dwyer should get comp, but not because of the personal comfort doctrine.

Instead, the court said the good Samaritan doctrine applied.

That doctrine says when an employee leaves his work duties to help someone else, whether that is “in the course of work” hinges on whether the employee’s action was reasonably foreseeable.

The court said, since there were previous problems with the snack machine, and the company had no stated policy against shaking it, it was foreseeable that Dwyer would help his co-worker. For that reason, he got comp.

This isn’t an isolated case. An Oregon court has also ruled that an employee who injured his foot while helping a co-worker dislodge candy from a machine should also receive comp.

Did the court extend the good Samaritan doctrine too far? Do you think Dwyer should get comp? Let us know in the Comments Box below.

Cite 1: Circuit City v. Dwyer, Appellate Court of Illinois, 5/21/09.

Cite 2: Washington Group International v. Barela, Oregon Court of Appeals, 8/22/07.

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  1. Carolyn, PHR says:

    Where does common sense come in to play? To hit the machine with such force as to break one’s hip goes beyond the use of common sense. This was not part of his job duty description I am sure. There is too much burden put on employers for employees lack of using their brains. I am sure the business also provides health insurance that I feel this should have been applied to, and that would have been more than fair.

  2. I think I’ll go to Illinois, get a job, then kick something to get hurt. I’m sure that whoever hires me doesn’t have a stated policy on kicking things. Then take the rest of the summer off, paid of coarse. How stupid of this state to award such a thing.

  3. Illinois has the WORST Work Comp laws and we keep loosing businesses and can’t get any new ones to move here because of the work comp laws. I really wish the lawmakers would do something to help protect the company’s from paying for medical expenses that are not truly work related!!

  4. This seems like a stupid situation; however, employers have a responsibility to ensure that any equipment provided for employees’ use is in good working order. I have personally seen people tilt snack machines in an effort to obtain goods purchased that get stuck – not at work – but in public buildings.

  5. Oops. I did it again. I meant any equipment provided for “an” employees use.

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