A Recent Missouri Court of Appeals Decision Regarding Limits on Workers Compensation Recovery

by Mary Hodges

Deputy Scott J. Beine (“Beine”) worked for the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department (“Employer”) from 1997 until July 7, 2008. He was assigned to the position of a school resource officer. Beine was also a member of the St. Charles County Deputy Sheriff’s Association (“Association”), a voluntary, nonprofit association, which raises money for charity. The Association sponsored a charity golf tournament that used the proceeds to fund the annual “Shop-With-A-Deputy” holiday event.

On July 7, 2008, while volunteering at a charity golf tournament, Beine was struck in the forehead with a golf ball. He was treated for a laceration and subcutaneous contusion. He later sought treatment for severe and frequent headaches, memory loss, poor balance, insomnia, tinnitus, depression, and mood swings. He was unable to resume work and was officially terminated on January 7, 2009.

Beine filed a claim for workers compensation on November 11, 2008. At his hearing on January 20, 2010, the Employer’s central argument was the injury did not arise out of and in the course of employment. Beine urged the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to consider the mutual benefit doctrine. More specifically, he argued that his Employer and the Association were interconnected organizations and that the golf tournament benefited the Employer.

ALJ for the Division of Workers Compensation denied Beine benefits on the grounds that his injury did not rise out of and in the course of employment and did not result from any increased risk connected to his employment. Furthermore, the ALJ found that the golf tournament was a voluntary and recreational activity under Section 287.120.7 and was not compensable under workers’ compensation laws. Beine’s mutual benefit theory was denied.

Beine filed an appeal with the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission and on March 17, 2011 it issued a final award denying compensation. Beine then appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District. Again, Beine argued that the injury did arise out of and in the course of employment and was not a recreational activity pursuant to Section 287.120.7 because the charity golf tournament benefited the employer.

Under the Missouri Workers Compensation statute, an injury shall be deemed to arise out of and in the course of employment only if: (a) It is reasonably apparent, upon consideration of all the circumstances, that the accident is the prevailing factor in causing the injury; and (b) It does not come from a hazard or risk unrelated to the employment to which workers would have been equally exposed outside of and unrelated to the employment in normal non-employment life. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 287.020.3(2).

The Eastern District emphasized that golfing was not an assigned duty for Beine, who had to use vacation days to participate in the tournament. Furthermore, his Employer did not promote or plan the event, did not receive or control the proceeds of the tournament, and did not have control over Beine’s actions at the tournament. The Court also found that the Employer and the Association were wholly independent entities and the charity golf tournament provided no benefit to the employer.

The result was not a good one for Beine but keep in mind that there are circumstances in which an employee may be entitled to benefits for injuries sustained during a recreational activity. The three exceptions to Section 287.120.7 are that: (1) the employer ordered the employee to participate in the activity; (2) the employer paid the employee’s wages or travel expenses while participating in the activity; or (3) the injury occurred on the employers premises due to an unsafe condition and the employer knew of the unsafe condition and the employee’s participation in the recreational activity.

However, the Court left open the issue of whether the mutual benefits doctrine would allow compensation for injuries sustained during recreational activities if the employee’s participation in that activity mutually benefited the claimant and employer. See Graham v. La-Z-Boy Chair Co., 117 S.W.3d 182, 185 (Mo. App. S.D. 2003). Since the cases relied on by Beine were decided prior to the 2005 amendments to the workers’ compensation law, it is questionable whether or not the amendments abrogated the mutual benefits doctrine. The Court found no need to address the issue since it was clear that the golf tournament did not benefit the Employer.

Therefore, not all hope is lost for employees injured during possible work related recreational activities but unless one of the exceptions to Section 287.120.7 applies, recovery under the mutual benefits doctrine alone remains uncertain.