Can I Receive Injury Compensation From a Fight at Work?

As with most cases, you may be able to receive injury compensation from a fight at work.

To receive workers’ compensation benefits for an injury, an employee must establish that the injury resulted 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) whether the origin of the assault was work-related, and (2) whether the claimant was not the instigator. The injury is compensable only if both findings are made.

Some situations are relative “no-brainers”. Frank accidentally spills hot water on his co-worker, Joe. Joe gets upset and they begin to argue. After returning to work, Joe hits Frank on the back of the head with a large cooking utensil, causing him to lose consciousness. Are Frank’s injuries covered under Ohio workers’ compensation?

Let’s say Frank is sent to work at a construction site in “that state up north” by his employer. The employer makes reservations 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 that he can get some sleep. They respond with a beer bottle to Frank’s head and Frank applies for workers’ compensation. Good claim?

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, a violation of a city ordinance. Frank warns the man that his conduct is a violation of the law and then returns to work. The man then sneaks up behind Frank and gives him a haymaker to the head. Frank again files for workers’ compensation—is his claim legit?

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’s widow files for death benefits. Will her claim be successful?

In all these situations, Ohio courts have determined that Frank may be eligible for injury compensation and, in the case of his widow, her claim for death benefits valid. The arguments and resulting assaults in those 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 most certainly have been denied as he would have been considered the instigator.

The timing and location of the assault have also been significant in Ohio. While working at the Goodyear Tire plant in Logan, Frank was approached by his supervisor who asked whether coworker 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. The Ohio Supreme Court held Frank’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.

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 occurring 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. The Franklin County Court of Appeals has stated 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.

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