EXTREME LIMITS OF WC COVERAGE
By Dennis R. Kurth, Associate Attorney
Certified Workers' Compensation Specialist
There are many misconceptions about workers’ compensation insurance, what it is and what it covers. Most people have no contact with their state’s workers’ compensation system until they or a family member have a serious injury on the job and their family is affected directly. Sometimes what one finds out about workers’ compensation is surprising.
In a case that illustrates perhaps the extreme limits of what kind of accidental injury workers’ compensation insurance might cover and which arose in the context of ongoing national debate over second amendment rights, the Arizona Court of Appeals in Naglieri v. Industrial Commission (2014), suggested that an injury covered by the accidental discharge of a collector’s military machine gun by an auto mechanic who was cleaning and reassembling it on a slow afternoon with his employer’s implied consent, was covered by the workers’ compensation law even though the injurious activity had nothing whatsoever to do with the business of an auto repair shop.
The Court endorsed the imposition of workers’ compensation liability on the employer because the manager of the shop observed the claimant working on the weapon, conversed with him about it and did not stop him from doing it. Shortly after the manager walked away, the firing rod came unhinged and shot through the claimant’s eye nucleating it and penetrating his brain.
The injury occurred in a shop where the prevailing culture was decidedly macho and pro-gun. A worker might bring in a new gun and show it off like a woman might show off a new baby. The district manager of the employer, perhaps carrying his constitutional interpretation too far, testified that every employee had a constitutional right to bring a gun into the workplace and admitted to carrying a concealed weapon himself.
This unusual case illustrates the principle that if an employer knows about a dangerous activity that a worker is engaged in at work and does not stop it, the employer is responsible for any injury that occurs to the worker from that activity.
Obviously, despite the current national debate over second amendment rights, enlightened employers are best advised to consider the ramifications of importing such unrestrained rights into the workplace with the huge risks that entails. A strong written, posted and enforced policy against such activity in the workplace would shield employers from such liability in the future.