Stephen Whigham v Jackson Dawson Communications and The Hartford (2014) H&FLR 2014-53
Supreme Court of South Carolina
27 August 2014
Coram: Toal CJ, Hearn, Kittredge and Pleicones JJ, and Moore AJ
Appearing for the Plaintiff: Douglas A Churdar (of Churdar Law Firm)
Appearing for the Defendants: Benjamin M Renfrow and Wesley J Shull (of Willson Jones Carter & Baxley PA).
Catchwords: South Carolina – workers compensation – team building event – kickball – injury – compensability
Facts: The plaintiff was employed by the defendant (Jackson Dawson Communications) as Director of Creative Solutions. The employer attached value to holding team building events and the plaintiff proposed holding a company kickball game. The company endorsed the proposal and instructed him to proceed with it, including spending a certain amount of the company’s funds. During the kickball game which ultimately took place, the plaintiff jumped and landed awkwardly, suffering a severe break of his right leg.
Section 42-1-160(A) of the South Carolina Code provides that for an injury to be compensable, it must arise “out of and in the course of employment”.
The plaintiff lodged a claim for workers compensation which was rejected by a single member of the Workers’ Compensation Commission and by the full Commission on the grounds that the injury had not arisen out of or in the course of employment. The plaintiff’s appeal to the Court of Appeals was dismissed: Whigham v Jackson Dawson Communications, (S.C. Ct. App., Pieper, Konduros and Geathers JJ, 11 April 2012, unreported). The plaintiff appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Held: per Toal CJ, Hearn J and Moore AJ, allowing the appeal, that –
1. In assessing whether a work injury is compensable, the Workers’ Compensation Act is liberally construed towards providing coverage. Any reasonable doubt in the Act’s interpretation should be construed in favour of coverage*.
Shealy v Aiken County, 341 SC 448, 535 SE.2d 438 (2000), approved.
2. An injury arises out of employment where a rational mind would identify a causal relationship between the injury and the conditions under which the work was performed.
Crisp v SouthCo Inc, 401 SC 627, 738 SE.2d 835 (2013), approved.
3. To assess whether a recreational or social activity fell within the course of employment, the court considers whether it falls within the following factors –
(a) It occurred on the employers premises during a lunch or recreational period as a regular incident of employment.
(b) The employer made the activity part of the employee’s services or otherwise expressly or impliedly required participation.
(c) The employer derived a substantial direct benefit from the activity beyond the intangible value of improvement in employee health or morale.
Leopard v Blackman-Uhler, 318 SC 369, 458 SE.2d 41 (1995), followed.
4. In this case, the plaintiff was impliedly required to attend the game which he had organised and it became part of his services. As such it arose out of the course of employment.
Per Kittredge and Pleicones JJ (dissenting), that there was insufficient evidence to warrant overturning the decisions of the courts below.
The Court’s judgment is available here.
* This may be seen as a norm of compensation statutes: cf Hegedis v Carlton & United Breweries (2000) 4 VR 296 at ¶32.