In a recent Missouri case involving “horseplay,” the claimant, Hedrick, was a mechanic who suffered serious burns resulting in a coma when he intentionally lit a can of adhesive which a coworker was holding. It caused an explosion and serious injuries to both the coworker and himself. The claimant required substantial treatment and incurred medical expenses exceeding $250,000. The claim (Hedrick vs. Big O Tires) was denied by the insurance company and the case proceeded to trial.
The claimant argued that lighting the can on fire was horseplay but that horseplay was prevalent at the workplace and therefore, the risk of injury arose out of and in the course and scope of his employment. The claimant did testify that setting a can of glue on fire was not part of his job duties, although employees sometimes used open flames as part of their job duties when safety measures were taken to ensure that no flammable materials were close by. In Missouri, a claimant is usually not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if the claimant was involved in horseplay at the time of the accident. In this case, it was reported that injuries due to other acts of horseplay had been accepted by the employer such as greasing door knobs, blowing air at another employee in the bathroom, snapping a rag towards an employee, and placing inappropriate objects in a toolbox.
Despite the history of horseplay at work, the ALJ found the claimant “failed to demonstrate a causal connection between the duties of his employment at Big O Tires and intentionally lighting a can of glue held in a co-worker’s hand on fire with a lighter. Mr. Hedrick himself testified that there was no function of his employment at Big O Tires that involved setting a can of glue on fire.” The ALJ further stated that lighting the can on fire was an intentionally dangerous act that had nothing to do with his job duties and was extraordinarily dangerous, unlike the prior instances of horseplay which were obviously not life threatening. The Commission affirmed the denial of benefits finding that the injury did not arise from a risk associated with the claimant’s employment. It stated that “the risk bears almost no relation to the employment whatsoever. Any employee can choose to mishandle or misuse dangerous materials in such a way as to introduce new risks and hazards into the workplace; but this choice, standing alone, is insufficient to implicate workers’ compensation liability for consequent injuries sustained by such an employee.”
Interestingly, a co-worker who was also burned in the incident did receive benefits because his injury arose from an unprovoked and neutral assault. Fortunately, the Missouri Commission was able to make the correct decision in this case despite the significant injuries sustained by the claimant.