We all want an injury-free workplace. No injuries means no lost productivity, no workers’ comp payments or premium increases and no additional OSHA scrutiny. But employees sometimes can’t resist horseplay, which can lead to serious injuries.
If you need an additional reason to discourage playing around, even in good fun, tell them this: An employee who intentionally hurts a co-worker may be personally sued—even if the injured employee is collecting workers’ compensation for the same injury. And having to pay a large judgment can destroy everything that employee has worked so hard to achieve.
Recent case: Michael Mullins and his wife sued two of Mullins’ co-workers after collecting workers’ compensation for an injury he suffered when snow fell on him. The accident occurred when Mullins was at work, standing by a fence. His co-workers, who were operating snowplows in the area, headed toward Mullins with plows loaded with snow, apparently in a mocked threatening way. Although the plows did not hit Mullins, snow from the plow buckets knocked him over, injuring his back.
Mullins lost his lawsuit, but only because the court found that the co-workers weren’t acting so outrageously that they intentionally set out to harm Mullins. But the court also explicitly stated that, had the evidence shown more recklessness, there was nothing to bar Mullins from getting two bites at the apple—first workers’ comp and then tort damages. (Mullins, et al., v. Stanford, et al., No. 275340, Court of Appeals of Michigan, 2007)