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.