You Be the Judge

Is Fall During Horseplay Compensable?

A man working outdoors injured himself falling from a tree. The court was left to decide whether the injury fell within the scope of his employment.
By: | January 9, 2017 • 3 min read

A pipe fitter for Fabricated Pipe worked to assemble pipe parts into larger systems based on isometric drawings. He also occasionally assisted coworkers with moving pipe, cleaning the work yard, or loading and unloading trucks.

The man and some coworkers were cleaning up the work yard. They took a break, and the pipe fitters sat in the shade of a tree and began sending text messages. The coworkers were talking near a water cooler about six feet away.

The pipe fitter said that some coworkers started throwing clumps of dirt at him to aggravate him. The pipe fitters walked to the water cooler, and the men continued talking. Their conversation turned to the subject of climbing trees and about how they climbed trees as children.

The pipe fitter said that two coworkers started to climb the tree. He said a coworker told him to climb the tree. The pipe fitter climbed the tree to a height of approximately 25 feet.

A coworker said that they yelled for the pipe fitter to come down because the tree was shaking, but the pipe fitter denied hearing anyone tell him to come down. The pipe fitter began to shake the tree from side to side. The tree snapped, and the pipe fitter fell 25 feet to the ground.

The pipe fitter was diagnosed with five broke ribs and a spinal cord injury. He sought workers’ compensation benefits. The administrative judge found that he suffered a compensable injury.

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The Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed, finding that the pipe fitter’s fall and injuries did not occur within the scope and course of employment. The pipe fitter appealed.

Was the commission correct in finding that the pipe fitter’s injury was not compensable?

  • A. No. The pipe fitter’s tree climbing was mere horseplay during a lull in his work duties, not a deviation from his employment.
  • B. Yes. The pipe fitter deviated from the course of employment when he climbed the tree.
  • C. No. The nature of the pipe fitter’s employment invited some horseplay during lulls in the workday.

How the Court Ruled

A is incorrect. The court found that the pipe fitter’s tree climbing was a deviation from the course of his employment.

C is incorrect. The court found that although the nature of the pipe fitter’s employment may have invited some horseplay during lulls in the workday, Fabricated Pipe also had a policy against unsafe activities and horseplay.

B is correct. In Haney v. Fabricated Pipe, Inc., et al., No. 2015-WC-01321-COA (Miss. Ct. App. 11/08/16), the Mississippi Court of Appeals held that the pipe fitter’s injury was not within the course and scope of his employment.

The court held that the pipe fitter’s tree climbing was a serious and complete deviation from the course of his employment. The court explained that his action was serious enough that his coworkers became alarmed and called for him to climb down.

Also, the deviation was complete, as none of his duties could have been “commingled” with tree climbing. There was no evidence that such conduct had been an accepted part of the employment.

The court pointed out that 25 feet in the air the pipe fitter was not “present and ready” to further Fabricated Pipe’s business. The court also noted that falling out of a tree was not a risk inherent to the pipe fitter’s employment.

Editor’s note: This feature is not intended as instructional material nor to replace legal advice.

Christina Lumbreras is a Legal Editor for Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

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