An employee applied for workers’ comp benefits after being hit in the forehead with a golf ball at a charity tournament.
Scott Beine was a deputy of the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department in Missouri.
He was struck while playing in a charity tournament hosted by the St. Charles County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, “a voluntary, nonprofit association of deputies whose primary purpose was to raise money for charity.”
After being hit, Beine was treated for tinnitus, poor balance, memory loss, severe and frequent headaches, insomnia and other medical problems. He was never able to return to full-time work and was released by the Sheriff’s Department six months after the injury.
Beine applied for workers’ comp benefits.
An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied the claim on the ground that Beine’s injury didn’t arise out of and in the course of his employment.
The ALJ noted that the charity golf tournament was a voluntary recreational activity and therefore was not compensable under workers’ comp law.
Beine argued that under the mutual benefit doctrine, he should receive comp. That doctrine says an employee engaging in a voluntary recreational activity can receive workers’ comp for an injury if his participation mutually benefited him and his employer.
The ALJ rejected that argument, noting that his employer and the association were not interconnected organizations.
Beine appealed to the workers’ comp commission, which upheld the ALJ’s ruling. Yet another appeal went to a state appeals court.
The court noted:
- golfing wasn’t one of Beine’s assigned duties
- his employer required him to use vacation days to participate in the golf tournament
- his employer didn’t promote the tournament
- the sheriff’s office didn’t receive or control proceeds from the tournament, and
- the association and his employer were entirely separate and independent entities.
For those reasons, the court rejected all of Beine’s reasons why he should receive workers’ comp benefits, including that the mutual benefits doctrine applied in this case. Therefore, Beine would not receive benefits.
In this case, the employer did itself a favor by distancing itself sufficiently from a charity event so that any employee’s injury suffered there would not be eligible for workers’ comp coverage.
Although workers’ comp laws vary from state to state, here are some circumstances that could leave an employer liable in similar situations:
- if the charity event was held on the employer’s property
- if employees were required to participate, even if it was only implied that participation would benefit workers
- if employees benefited from participation, or
- if the employer exerted sufficient control over the event.
(Beine v. County of St. Charles, MO Court of Appeals, No. ED 96581, 12/6/2011)