Session Offers Valuable Lessons Through Unusual Cases
The 24th annual National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo takes place Nov. 11-13 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The conference is produced by LRP Publications, which publishes Risk & Insurance®. For more information, visit the NWCDC website.
Have you heard the case about the overweight worker who pulled a helicopter too close to the ground and sustained injuries as he bumped along? It involved a worker tethered to a helicopter with only a rope tied around his waist as he tried to catch deer to bring to a company’s out-of-state property for hunters.
“The employer denied the claim claiming, among other things, that he was an independent contractor,” said Thomas A. Robinson, J.D. and coauthor of Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law. “He prevailed in the end, but it’s an example of the expression, what are the good old boy’s last words? ‘Watch this!’”
It’s just one of many bizarre workers’ comp cases Robinson has seen during his decades as a workers’ comp attorney and author. The cases form the basis of Robinson’s session at this year’s conference.
Even though the cases are bizarre (and in some cases humorous), Robinson says there are also valuable lessons for practitioners.
Arthur Larson Connection
Robinson’s interest in unusual workers’ comp cases can be traced to the start of his career when he worked for one of the icons of the industry. While he was attending graduate school at Duke University in the 1980s, Robinson worked part time for Arthur Larson.
A one-time undersecretary of Labor and law professor emeritus at Duke University, Larson is credited with writing one of the most comprehensive and authoritative treatises in the workers’ comp industry. Robinson said the two became friends.
“Starting around 1989, we’d gather for cocktails at his house in early January. All through the previous year we’d each keep a list of bizarre cases, and in January we’d sit down and compare our cases.”
“This sounds hokey, but all too often the employer and the employee seem to check their supply of common sense at the door.” — Thomas A. Robinson, J.D., coauthor of Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law
Fast forward to early this century, Robinson said he became nostalgic about the annual session with Larson. “I’m going to do my own bizarre list each year and raise a glass to Arthur,” he explained. “I sent the list out to a group of folks for a number of years.”
Eventually, Robinson turned his annual list into a blog. “About three years ago, National Public Radio picked it up and used it for a Saturday morning broadcast,” he said. “That helped move it along. Now it’s actually the most popular annual blog for the LexisNexis workers’ comp site.”
Lessons to Learn
Robinson reminds his audiences that even though ‘we are having some fun with this … for some people these were real cases and the fact that they are bizarre doesn’t take away from the fact that someone got hurt.” The session “takes advantage of the fact that by its nature workers’ comp law generates a whole number of interesting, quirky, bizarre cases in any given year.”
Robinson said he finds cases ripe for the blog and the session by skimming through approximately 2,500 workers’ comp cases annually. Some are also sent to him by interested readers.
One case involved what Robinson said was an “immature” EMT trying to impress a female colleague by using cardiac paddles on her. “He activated the paddles and killed her,” he said. “Things like this happen within the workplace and that’s what produces this stuff.”
Many of these cases involve horseplay among workers as well as alcohol. And many can be anticipated and prevented by employers, Robinson said.
“This sounds hokey, but all too often the employer and the employee seem to check their supply of common sense at the door,” he explained.
Robinson said he has a plethora of bizarre cases, along with advice for attendees. While the session will include the 10 bizarre cases of 2015, he said he might also add some of those he shared with Larson.
“Because it’s the first time [doing this session] in Las Vegas, I actually might save a couple of spots for my all-time favorites,” he said. “I’ve got cases going back 25 years. I may show several from prior years.”