Course and Scope of Employment?

Part 1: Holliday v. Tropical Nut & Fruit Co. (COA14-1030)

A recent case out of the North Carolina Court of Appeals addresses multiple hotly contested Worker’s Compensation issues. The case addresses whether an injury arose out of employment, whether the plaintiff suffered a compensable injury, and whether temporary total disability benefits were properly awarded. We will look at each of these issues in separate blog entries.

Today, we will look at whether an injury arose out of the course and scope of the plaintiff’s employment.

Here, a territory manager and sales representative for defendant-employer was at a team-building event in Charlotte, North Carolina. Each employee participated in bowling and/or laser tag at the event. While the plaintiff was playing laser tag, he felt a sharp pain in his leg, which worsened as the game went on. The plaintiff immediately told his superior and iced the knee. Plaintiff eventually had surgery to repair the knee and was laid off from the company in a restructuring the next year.

After the surgery, Plaintiff visited another doctor for a second opinion regarding the pain in his knee. The second opinion doctor determined that plaintiff needed a total knee replacement. Plaintiff eventually had the total knee replacement. As the knee replacement was going to require a 3-6 month recovery, Plaintiff then filed a Worker’s Compensation claim for the injury.

The first issue we will look at is whether the injury arose out of and in the course and scope of plaintiff’s employment. This is an interesting issue given the unique circumstances of the injury.

The Full Commission found that the injury did arise out of the course and scope of employment because plaintiff was at a work function that was almost entirely controlled and planned by his employer. The Court of Appeals agreed, holding that the Full Commission had an adequate basis for finding that the injury was in the course and scope of employment. The Court noted that employees were required to attend the event, they were encouraged to participate in the laser tag, and the employer derived a benefit from the conference as a whole.

This case presents a very interesting issue. Even if you are attending a team-building event or off-site conference, you are still likely covered by the provisions of the Worker’s Compensation Act.

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