In 1705, a ship bringing cinnamon to Connecticut was frozen in ice offshore. Thanksgiving celebrations were held up until volunteers went across the ice to offload the cinnamon, which was necessary for – pumpkin pie (even then considered a standard Thanksgiving dessert).
Winter Holidays Often Marked By Volunteering
What does this have to do with work comp? Well, maybe not much in 1705 but quite a bit in 2014. Winter holidays are often marked by employees volunteering for chartiable activities centering around Thanksgiving and Christmas and – inevitably – a few get injured. Are those injuries compensable?
Nearly Always Volunteering Injuries Are Ruled Compensable
From the very beginning of work comp in the early 20th century courts were asked to deal with this question. Nearly always, the injuries were ruled compensable because the volunteer activities of an employer’s workers resulted in valuable good will for the employer, provided of course that the employer could somehow be identified as having a connection.
One of the first cases reported, in the early 1920s, involved a driver of a truck with the employer’s logo on it stopping to help a driver with a flat tire. The driver has been informally encouraged by the employer to lend reasonable assistance to people with disabled vehicles.
Another case involved a portly salesman invited by a regular customer to play Santa Claus at the customer’s office Christmas party. The salesman bought a Santa costume with a one-piece hat and attached white beard. Driving to the party, in costume, the beard got caught in the belt, pulling the hat over his eyes causing a crash into a telephone pole. Ruling? Compensable! (The case was a favorite of Arthur Larson, author of the leading treatise on work comp.)
Employee participation in voluntary off-hours sports leagues which result in injury are also frequently compensable, especially if there are employee logos on the clothing.
Rulings Can Be The Grinch At The Holiday Celebration
The rulings in favor of compensability often turn out to be the grinch at the holiday celebration. This author watched, stunned, as a senior executive cancelled all company sports leagues after an employee collected $5,000 for a quickly healed fracture sustained at a July 4th picnic and softball game.
Connecting recent rulings to the 1705 incident, suppose the volunteers were crossing the ice to bring the cinnamon back so the town could have its Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. If the volunteers were a group identifiably associated with an employer (or group of employers) the injuries might well be compensable, in much the same way that injuries to volunteer first responders have been since 9/11.
Author: Attorney Theodore Ronca is a practicing lawyer from Aquebogue, NY. He is a frequent writer and speaker, and has represented employers in the areas of workers’ compensation, Social Security disability, employee disability plans and subrogation for over 30 years. Attorney Ronca can be reached at 631-722-2100. firstname.lastname@example.org
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