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January 10, 2012

Workers’ Compensation Benefits for injuries sustained in voluntary off-duty athletic event available if found to be a “work-connected”

Workers’ Compensation Benefits for injuries sustained in voluntary off-duty athletic event available if found to be a “work-connected”
Nichols v Hale Cr. ASACTC, 2012 NY Slip Op 00078, Appellate Division, Third Department

James A. Nichols, the Superintendent of Hale Creek Correctional Facility in Fulton County, was injured while coaching an employee volleyball team preparing to compete in the "Department of Correction Olympics."

Corrections and its insurer, the State Insurance Fund [SIF], controverted Nichols’ claim, arguing that he had not suffered the injury in the course of his employment.

The Workers’ Compensation Board ruled in Nichols favor and SIF appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Board’s ruling. Although Workers' Compensation Law §10(1) provides that an injury is not compensable when it is sustained during voluntary participation in an off-duty athletic activity that does not constitute part of an employee's work-related duties, in this instance the record indicated that Nichols “was given specific direction to improve staff morale, and his encouragement of employee participation in the Olympics and his active role in coaching the volleyball team were in furtherance of that edict.”

In addition, testimony by Nichols supervisor that “there is an expectation that superintendents be involved with as many facility-related events as possible,” said the court.

Accordingly, said the court, “we decline to disturb the Board's factual determination that [Nichols’] injury arose out of and in the course of his employment.”

In contrast, in Koch v Rockland Sheriff’s Department, 289 A.D.2d 865, Motion for leave to appeal denied, 98 N.Y.2d 601, the Appellate Division sustained the Workers' Compensation Board rejected Koch’s application for benefits after determining that the injury "was not job related.

Koch, said the Board, suffered his injury while participating in a union-sponsored softball game between employees of the Sheriff's Department's correction division and employees of its patrol division.

Where, as here, said the Appellate Division, an employee is injured in a voluntary athletic activity that is not part of the employee's work-related duties, §10.1 of the Workers’ Compensation Law bars an award of workers' compensation benefits unless one of three conditions is met.

The three exceptions: The employer (a) requires the employee to participate in such activity, (b) compensates the employee for participating in such activity or (c) otherwise sponsors the activity.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2012/2012_00078.htm

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