DJK partner, trial lawyer, and Cheyenne workers’ compensation lawyer Justin Kallal recently won an important appeal reversing the Office of Administrative Hearings’ (“OAH”) denial of benefits for a work injury to the knee. Both the Division of Workers’ Compensation (“The Division”) and the injured worker’s employer Moore Insulation (“Moore”) objected to the claim alleging the Claimant, the injured worker, was engaged in horseplay at the time of the injury. At the hearing level, the OAH Hearing Examiner agreed with the Division and Moore and found that the Claimant’s actions took him out of the scope of his employment and denied benefits. Justin appealed the decision, and the First Judicial District Court of Laramie County, reversed the OAH decision and found that the Claimant was entitled to benefits for his work injury.

Justin’s client, the Claimant, was working as an insulation installer for Moore at a local job site on South Greeley Highway in Cheyenne. It was the end of the day, and he was standing on a step ladder installing insulation in a rim joist, when a more experienced employee struck him in the face with a bottlecap, shot by twisting a plastic bottle until the cap shoots off. After being struck in the face, the Claimant got off the ladder and chased his fellow employee away so he could finish working. In the process, he tripped on an exposed plumbing pipe and severely injured his knee.

Despite the fact that no one disputed that the Claimant was in the scope of employment when he was struck in the face, both the Division and the employer objected arguing the Claimant had engaged in “horseplay” by trying to remove his fellow employee from his work area. Both the Division and the employer argued this minor “chase” took the Claimant out of his scope of his employment and made him ineligible for benefits, including necessary medical care. The Division and the employer took this stance despite the undisputed record that the Claimant had been a good employee with no prior history of horseplay on any jobsite and an admission that the actions of his co-employee were dangerous.  The Hearing Examiner agreed and found that this “chase” took the Claimant out of the scope of his employment and denied coverage for the injury.

The First Judicial District Court took a much different view stating:

This Court concludes OAH’s determination that the Division and Moore Insulation rebutted the presumption of work-relatedness is not supported by substantial evidence. Based upon the application of the law established in the Espinoza case, the court concludes there was not substantial evidence to support OAH’s finding that the Claimant (Name Omitted) was not engaged in work activities at the time of his injury. It is undisputed that the Claimant was doing his job installing insulation on a four-foot ladder when Mr. (Name Omitted), for the second time that day, hit the Claimant with a bottle cap. The bottle cap surprised the Claimant and hit him in the head. There can be no reasonable dispute that Mr. (Name Omitted)’s actions interrupted the Claimant’s ability to perform his work for Moore Insulation and created an obstacle in the path of his efforts to further Moore Insulation’s business objectives of installing insulation.  

The District Court went on to reverse the Hearing Examiner’s decision and award benefits to the Claimant for his knee injury. The right result was achieved in the end, but it was not without a battle the whole way from the Division and employer. The importance of persistence cannot be underestimated in fighting for your rights as an injured employee. Make sure you have a lawyer fighting for your rights who is not afraid to stand up for you, fight for you, and not give up if at first things do not go your way. If you have been injured at work and denied benefits, then contact the Wyoming Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Davis, Johnson & Kallal to fight for your rights.