Thursday, August 16, 2012

Workers’ Compensation benefits for injury as a participant in an “off-duty athletic event” depends of the nature of the employer’s sponsorship


Workers’ Compensation benefits for injury as a participant in an “off-duty athletic event” depends of the nature of the employer’s sponsorship
Huff v Department of Corrections, 52 AD3d 1003

Cheryl Huff, a correction officer, was employed at the Greene Correctional Facility in Greene County. She was injured while practicing volleyball for the employer's "Olympics," while playing on a team representing another correctional facility.

The Workers' Compensation Board approved Huff’s application for workers’ compensation benefits, ruling that her injury arose out of and in the course of her employment. The employer and its Workers’ Compensation Insurance carrier appealed the Board’s ruling.

Initially the Appellate Division noted that where an employee is neither required nor compensated to participate in an off-duty athletic-related activity, an injury attributable to such participation is compensable only when the employer "otherwise sponsors the activity," citing Section 10.1 of the Workers' Compensation Law.

As to what constitutes sponsorship, the court said sponsorship has been found when there is an affirmative act or overt encouragement by the employer for the employee to participate in the activity.

The problem, here, however, was that the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board's finding that Huff was eligible for workers’ compensation benefit for the injury that she sustained in the course of training for the Olympics for another Corrections facility’s team was contrary to a previous Board decision having almost identical facts.

The Appellate Division pointed out that the Board had previously ruled that a corrections employee's injury while training to represent the facility in a statewide athletic competition was not compensable because the employer did not sponsor or encourage participation in the activity.

In such situations the Appellate Division said that is was incumbent on the administrative body to “set forth a rational explanation for doing so or such determination will be deemed arbitrary and capricious.”

Holding that the Board has not provided a rational basis for departing from its own precedent, the Appellate Division vacated its ruling and remitted the matter to the Workers' Compensation Board “for further proceedings not inconsistent with this Court's decision.”

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