10 Memorable Workers Comp Lawsuits in the United States

Most workers’ comp lawsuits are more depressing than anything else. After all, every case involves someone getting hurt, which makes for unpleasant reading.

Still, some workers’ comp lawsuits stand out by evoking stronger emotions in those who hear about them. Sometimes, the material makes it easy to sympathize. Other times, well, suffice it to say that employers aren’t the only ones who can show incredible chutzpah.

Here are 10 of the most memorable workers’ comp lawsuits that have happened in the United States:

10. An Illegal Employee Can Still Count As an Employee

A person doesn’t have to be an official employee to be deemed so in the eyes of the law. For proof, look no further than Lemmerman v. A.T. Williams Oil Co. from the 1980s. Quimbee says an eight-year-old boy named Shane Tucker fell on a sidewalk belonging to the A.T. Williams Oil Company in December 1983. Later, he and his mother launched a workers’ comp lawsuit, which would prove successful.

That might sound strange. Yes, the 1980s were a different time. Even so, child labor was illegal in the United States under most circumstances. Everything makes more sense when one learns that Shane Tucker regularly accompanied his mother to her job as a part-time cashier, where the store manager would pay him $1 to do odd jobs.

Thanks to that, successive courts decided he was an employee of the A.T. Williams Oil Company injured during his employment for the lawsuit, even though he was never considered so in an official sense. Indeed, one court pointed out that the Workers’ Compensation Act had provisions for illegally-employed child workers.

9. A Job Applicant Fell From a Truck Onto the Ground

As strange as it sounds, workers’ comp lawsuits don’t always involve what most people consider employees. In 2019, Gadalean v. SAIF Corp. saw a job applicant suing because he hurt himself while doing a pre-employment driving test.

Specifically, he had finished driving to the designated delivery destination. Unfortunately, he fell four or five feet while disconnecting the trailer. Something that resulted in an injured hip.

The job applicant did not get workers’ compensation in the end. As far as the Oregon Supreme Court was concerned, a worker wasn’t a worker unless they had agreed to provide services in the expectation of being paid for them. Certainly, the job applicant met the first criterion.

The issue was that he did the pre-employment driving test, knowing he wouldn’t receive money for it. Thanks to that, the job applicant wasn’t a worker in the eyes of the law.

8. A Decorator Tripped Over Her Dog While Working From Home

The exact impact of the COVID-19 crisis on how people work isn’t 100 percent clear. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is hard to difficult to predict long-term trends without a long-term perspective.

Still, the Pew Research Center and other resources state that remote work isn’t going away, which makes sense because it was already becoming more and more popular before the pandemic. As such, it seems safe to say that we will continue to see workers’ comp lawsuits related to remote work that sometimes sound silly but are nonetheless serious.

Already, there have been more than one workers’ comp lawsuit involving a woman who tripped over her dog while working from home. Business Insurance describes a case that happened back in 2011. A J.C. Penney decorator was walking between her home and her garage when she fractured her wrist by tripping over her dog.

Initially, a Workers’ Compensation Board said she wasn’t entitled to benefits. Later, Oregon’s Court of Appeals decided otherwise because the incident happened because of the requirements of her employment.

The woman was walking between the two places to replace the samples her employer required her to have in her car. Moreover, employer instruction was the reason why she had the samples in her garage in the first place.

7. A Truck Driver Burned His Feet in a Crockpot

When people think of the dangers of being a truck driver, they tend to think of those found on the road. Unfortunately, James Jarell’s case served as a reminder that truck drivers can also come upon dangers elsewhere. He was sleeping in a truck’s sleeper cab because he was out on a training trip.

When his trainer woke up, he stepped into a crockpot full of boiling water, which caused severe burns that forced him to the hospital for treatment. Unsurprisingly, Jarell sued for workers’ compensation, though his employer contested this because he wasn’t on the clock when the accident happened.

In the end, the courts decided for Jarell. The gist is that there was a strong connection between his injury and his employer’s instructions. After all, Jarell’s trainer had told him to sleep in the sleeper cab so they could get started as early as possible. Moreover, the man had woken him to start working.

As such, the courts determined that there was a direct connection. Something that isn’t automatically true when truck drivers get hurt while out on the road.

6. A Teacher Hurt in a Student-VS-Faculty Basketball Game

Voluntary activities aren’t always voluntary. Sometimes, people are voluntold, which can happen with greater ease in workplaces than in other places because of employers’ immense power over employees. That proved critical in the case of a middle school science teacher named Jonathan Jordan.

Generally, people don’t get workers’ compensation when they get hurt during voluntary activities. As such, Jordan wouldn’t have been compensated for getting hurt in a student-versus-faculty basketball game under normal circumstances. The critical point is that his participation wasn’t exactly voluntary on his part.

He didn’t agree to play in the basketball game until the school principal asked him to do so three times. Moreover, he had yet to have his teaching contract renewed for the next year while performance reviews were coming up.

Under those circumstances, it isn’t hard to see why the courts decided that Jordan’s participation in the basketball game wasn’t voluntary, thus entitling him to receive benefits for his injury.

5. A Casino Worker Hit a Wild Boar While Scouting Out the Competition

Smithsonian and other resources agree that wild boars are one of the most damaging invasive species in the United States. To a considerable extent, this is because of their adaptability.

Wild boars are notorious for being tough, opportunistic omnivores that can utilize a wide range of food sources. Thanks to that, it isn’t uncommon to see them reaching 400 pounds or more.

Unsurprisingly, running into a 400-pound animal isn’t a good thing. That is true even when someone is in a motor vehicle. Yes, the 400-pound animal will be hurt or worse by the collision.

However, chances are good that the person in the motor vehicle won’t be coming out unscathed. Such was the case when the director of player development for a Mississippi-based casino was riding in a car that struck a 400-pound wild boar at 4:00 am. At the time, she was returning from an Alabama-based bingo parlor.

Now, that doesn’t sound like a work thing. Indeed, her employment presented exactly that argument. In the end, the director of player development managed to get compensation because she successfully argued that she was returning from scouting out the competition.

The Alabama-based bingo parlor was close enough to the Mississippi-based casino that it was a major competitor for the latter’s clientele. Moreover, it was normal for the director of player development to work long, weird hours, which makes sense considering the nature of her duties.

4. A Retail Worker Fractured His Hip While Helping with a Vending Machine

Vending Machine Insider says these machines can weigh 450 to 800 pounds. As a result, it wouldn’t be too surprising to hear about someone hurting themselves by messing around with a vending machine. Heavy objects are inherently dangerous when people try to move them without the proper equipment.

That said, this workers’ comp lawsuit wasn’t quite that dramatic. Instead, what happened was that a Circuit City worker was trying to help one of his co-workers get a bag of chips that had become stuck in the vending machine. He tried shaking the vending machine but refrained from doing anything too foolish.

Unfortunately, that was not his day because he took a bad tumble in the process, which resulted in a fractured hip. Still, he did have some consolation in that the courts decided he was doing his job when he hurt himself, seeing as how he was trying to help one of his co-workers.

3. A Pipefitter Fell After Climbing Up a Tree

By this point, it should be clear that falls can be dangerous. If not, the CDC says one in five falls cause serious injuries, which aren’t odds that most people would want to gamble with. The higher the fall, the greater the chances of someone becoming badly hurt.

Despite this, some people make less than wise decisions anyway. For instance, there was the pipefitter who started talking about climbing trees as children with his co-workers, with the result that they started climbing trees as adults.

One of his co-workers managed to make it to 14 feet from the ground, so he decided to beat that by making it to 25 feet from the ground. Chances are good that interested individuals can guess that he didn’t manage to climb down.

Instead, he hit the ground hard when the tree snapped, thus resulting in five broken ribs, a cracked shoulder blade, and a spinal cord injury. The pipefitter tried to claim workers’ compensation.

Initially, he was successful. Later, the courts overturned that decision because he wasn’t injured doing his job. Indeed, the employer made a good case that tree climbing on the job was not something it approved of under normal circumstances.

2. An Intoxicated Longshoreman Fell Six-Feet Onto a Concrete and Steel Slab

Speaking of which, there is an even more striking story involving a longshoreman who decided to relieve himself over the railing of his employer’s facility. It seems safe to say that his dexterity wasn’t a match for his decision-making because he tumbled over before striking the concrete and steel slab underneath at considerable speed.

Fortunately, the longshoreman survived the incident. He argued that he wasn’t 100 percent at fault for his injuries because the concrete and steel slab worsened things. The attempt at claiming workers’ compensation went nowhere for two reasons.

One, the longshoreman was drunk, as shown by how his blood alcohol level was more than three times the limit for operating a motor vehicle. Two, the longshoreman was also high on cannabis at the time. As such, the courts rejected a request to review the initial decision to deny him workers’ compensation.

1. An Office Worker Traumatized By a Fake Robbery

Of course, employers are just as capable of making ridiculous decisions to the detriment of their employees. The Providence Journal reports that the West Kern Water District conducted a training exercise to see how people would react to emergencies in 2011.

Originally, a male employee was supposed to stage a fake robbery while remaining recognizable. Instead, a last-minute change resulted in him wearing a mask while claiming to have a gun.

When he approached the reception desk to demand money, one of the employees complied because she thought he was going to shoot her, while another employee ran off to call the police. The latter was furious at what had happened, which makes sense because people have been known to go into heart attacks because of high-stress events.

As for the employee, she was so traumatized by the incident that she couldn’t return to work for several months. During that time, she had to seek counseling for her nightmares and other trauma-induced issues. Unsurprisingly, she winded up suing the employer for the whole mess.

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