There are hundreds of ways to be injured at work. You could slip and fall, develop a repetitive-motion injury, strain your back lifting a load, have a mishap with a tool or equipment—you name it, we have seen it. One cause of injury that people don’t often think about is assault. What happens if you are attacked at work—either by a co-worker or a non-employee? Can you get workers’ comp for that? Depending on the situation, yes—injuries caused by a physical assault are compensable.

Assault Injuries Follow the Same Standards as Other Injuries

Worker Attacking a Coworker in the OfficeTo receive workers’ compensation benefits for an injury in Ohio, an employee must establish that the injury happened in the course of and arising out of his/her employment; both requirements must be met. Specifically, in cases involving fights and assaults at the place of employment, Ohio courts have consistently focused on two factors: (1) The origin of the assault was work-related, and (2) The claimant was not the instigator. The injury is compensable only if both findings are made.

Examples of Compensable Workplace Assaults

The best way to explain which kinds of workplace altercations are compensable is with examples. Real-life cases similar to these scenarios have been determined to be compensable by Ohio courts:

  • Frank accidentally spills hot water on his co-worker, Joe. Joe gets upset, and they argue. After returning to work, Joe hits Frank on the back of the head with a large cooking utensil, causing him to lose consciousness.
  • Let’s say Frank is sent to work at a construction site in “that state up north” by his employer. The employer reserves a room for Frank at a seedy motel. One evening, some unruly neighbors are drinking and arguing outside Frank’s room. He asks them to take the argument elsewhere so he can get some sleep. They respond with a beer bottle to Frank’s head.
  • Frank next goes to work as a street cleaner for the city of Cleveland (does this job still exist?). Frank notices a man sweeping dirt into the street, violating a city ordinance. Frank warns the man that his conduct violates the law and then returns to work. The man then sneaks up behind Frank and gives him a haymaker to the head.
  • Finally, Frank goes to work at Youngstown Foundry & Machine Company. His boss tells him to go to another part of the factory to obtain a piece of equipment. The helper refuses to give Frank the equipment but does give him a shovel upside the head, and Frank dies.

Frank should be eligible for injury compensation in all these situations. His widow in the last example should have a legitimate claim for death benefits. The arguments and resulting assaults in these cases arose from work-related activities in the course of employment. Note that, had Frank thrown the first punch in these scenarios, his claims would have been denied as he would have been considered the instigator.

Assault Claims That Are More Difficult to Prove

The timing and location of the assault have also been significant in Ohio workers’ comp decisions. To use poor Frank as an example again, consider the following scenario: While working at the Goodyear Tire plant in Logan, Frank was approached by his supervisor, who asked whether co-worker Joe had left work early the previous day. As the plant had been experiencing attendance problems and believing it was his duty to answer truthfully, Frank told his supervisor that Joe had been leaving work early. A week later, Joe assaulted Frank at a local restaurant. In a similar real case, the Ohio Supreme Court held that the claimant’s very serious injuries were not sustained in the course of his employment, nor did they arise out of his employment. A well-reasoned dissent argued that the injuries were compensable.

What If There Is a Personal Element to the Fight?

Also problematic are situations where an altercation is both work-related and personal. An altercation originally attributable to employment may be discontinued, only to resume after a brief interval as a personal altercation. Injuries sustained during the personal phase of the altercation have been held as not within the scope of employment. However, merely because a personal quarrel contributes—in addition to a work-related quarrel—to a situation resulting in an assault doesn’t automatically prevent the injury from being compensable. In one finding, the Franklin County Court of Appeals stated that an injury that results from an animosity fueled by both personal and work-related quarrels should be compensable when the work-related quarrel exacerbated the situation and, thus, establishes a causal connection between the injury and the employment.

Injured in an Assault at Work? You Need an Experienced Lawyer

As you can see, there are gray areas with assault claims, and you will need legal help arguing your case if you were hurt in a fight at work. The team at Monast Law Office will listen to your story and tell you if it is worth pursuing as a workers’ comp claim. We will not waste your time by giving you false hope, but if we think you have a claim, we will build a strong case on your behalf. If you want to learn more about workers’ comp claims in Ohio, please download our free book, The Workers’ Guide to Injury Compensation in Ohio, and give our office a call. If you suffered an unprovoked attack while doing your job, you should not have to shoulder the burden of medical expenses and lost wages. Contact my office for help.

 

James Monast
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Fighting for Ohio’s Injured Workers and their Families
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