B. Michael Korte, of The Korte Law Firm, LLC, was interviewed for a story that is currently (as of July 6, 2017) on the front page of workcompcentral, a leading website devoted to nationwide workers’ compensation news, regarding the recent decision of the Southern District of the Missouri court of appeals, in Hedrick v. Big O Tires, SD 34566, issued June 29.
“I find Hedrick to be a very interesting case”, said Korte, explaining, “It is the first case since The Workers’ Compensation Law of Missouri was amended in 2005 to consider a so-called “horseplay” situation.
“In my book, Missouri Workers’ Compensation Law and Practice, I explain that, prior to 2005, injuries due to jocular sportive acts, sportive assault, ‘fooling’, practical joking, larking and skylarking could be compensable work comp injuries if the injured worker’s employer knew about and tolerated such horseplay.
“The 2005 amendments changed how courts must review such behavior, not only under these circumstances, but also as to many other pre-2005 doctrines that had been created by case law, such as recreational injuries, acts of God, and the Reneau doctrine, to name a few.
“The 2016 case of Wright v. Treasurer of Missouri, 484 S.W.3d 56 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 2016) gave us some guidance in this regard, as it declared the personal comfort doctrine to be as alive and well after 2005 as it was before.
“In Hedrick, however, the Springfield Court of Appeals makes an innovative and intriguing pivot. Although he knew that doing so was dangerous and could cause injuries, Hedrick lit a can of glue being held by a co-worker on fire. The co-worker dropped the can, and it exploded, causing Hedrick to be severely burned.” (Editor’s note: this behavior also would have qualified Mr. Hedrick for inclusion as a KorteLaw Legal Tip of the Day.)
The court’s analysis did not even go so far as to consider the 2005 legislative amendments, however, even though the labor and industrial relations commission of Missouri had done so.
Instead, it reasoned, Missouri workers’ compensation only pays for injuries due to accidents or occupational diseases. Clearly, Hedrick’s injuries were not due to an occupational disease. But, the court held, since Hedrick knew that his behavior could result in injury, this incident was also not an accident. The claim was denied on that basis.
“This decision raises at least one big question for me,” noted Korte. “Section 287.120.1 of the Workers’ Compensation Law has always held that work-related injuries and deaths are compensable irrespective of negligence. Does the Hedrick case change that? Was Hedrick’s behavior intentional or reckless? Although Missouri law has always denied benefits for intentionally inflicted injuries such as suicide, was Hedrick’s behavior intentional, or merely reckless? I doubt that Hedrick intended that he himself be injured by this act.”
Korte was asked by workcompcentral to compare Hedrick’s behavior to that of a worker in Pennsylvania who was injured after he chose to jump from a roof after his co-workers removed a ladder and left his jobsite.
Korte said he thought the Pennsylvania worker’s injuries would not be compensable in Missouri if, like Hedrick, the worker admitted to having knowledge of the risk of injury from jumping off the roof.
“We haven’t heard the last of Hedrick,” said Korte. “It will be interesting to see if the Missouri supreme court is asked to consider this case, and if it will agree to do so.”