Whigham v. Jackson Dawson Communications: Defining a Workplace Injury in South Carolina

Sometimes employers require employees to go to various teambuilding activities and company retreats. A question arises as to whether an injury during one of these company events is considered as on-the-job for the purposes of workers’ compensation.

kickball-606231-m.jpgIn Whigham v. Jackson Dawson Communications, the Supreme Court of South Carolina addressed the issue of whether an employee injured at a company kickball game was eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

According to court records, petitioner was employed as the Director of Creative Solutions at a marketing and PR company. He was required to attend meetings twice a month, where the importance of team building activities was frequently discussed. Petitioner came up with the idea of a company kickball game, and his employer gave him a budget to spend on shirts and food for the game.

After organizing the kickball game, he announced it on the company’s internal website for employees to attend. During the game, petitioner was injured at the end of the game when he jumped to avoid being hit by the ball. When he landed, he broke his right leg, shattering both his tibia and fibula bones. He was taken to the emergency room by paramedics, had multiple surgical procedures, and was told he would need a total knee replacement.

When he applied for workers’ compensation benefits, the commission denied his application, on grounds that he was not injured in the course of his employment. He filed an appeal to the full commission, which rubber-stamped the decision, and the to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, which affirmed the denial of his workers’ compensation claim.

At this point, petitioner appealed to the Supreme Court for the State of South Carolina. As our Greenville workers’ compensation attorneys can explain, the South Carolina Supreme Court can choose whether or not accept cases for review in most circumstances through a process known as certiorari.

On appeal, the court looked at this issue of whether the kickball game was in the course of petitioner’s employment for the purpose of the workers’ compensation statute. The court noted that, for an injury to be considered work-related, it must be apparent to the rational mind, in the totality of the circumstances, that there is a casual relationship between work and the resulting injury.

With respect to recreational activity, under South Carolina law, the court looks at whether the activity occurs during lunch or during the normal workday, whether participation in the activity is expressly or impliedly required by the employer, and whether the employer derives any benefit from the activity.

The court found that petitioner’s participation in the kickball game was expected and not voluntary. This was different from the other employees in the game, who were not required to attend.

The court also said the company derived a benefit from the kickball game, because of the value placed on team building activities. The company even provided funds to set up the event.

While the court noted that it was not in petitioner’s job description, organizing a kickball game was not in anyone’s job description, but this was on-the-job injury for which he should be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under South Carolina Law.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Whigham v. Jackson Dawson Communications, Aug. 27, 2014, South Carolina Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Poole v. University of North Carolina – Vocational Rehabilitation Often Mandated, Aug. 11, 2014, Greenville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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