Attorneys – Will Workers’ Compensation Cover Your Softball Injury?

In the case of Morris James LLP v. Weller, the Superior Court reversed and remanded the findings of the Industrial Accident Board (the “Board”), holding that the Board applied the incorrect legal standard in finding a softball related injury was compensable under workers’ compensation.

A work injury is compensable through workers’ compensation if the injury occurred within the course and scope of employment. To determine whether a recreational event occurred in the course and scope of employment, the court must first determine whether the event is company sponsored.  If the event is company sponsored, the Court uses the four factor conjunctive test set forth in Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law and adopted by Delaware Court in Nocks.  If the event is not company sponsored, the Court uses the three factor disjunctive test set forth in Larson’s and adopted by Delaware Courts in Dalton.

The Court and the Board found that the event was sponsored by the Wilmington Lawyers’ Softball League, not Appellant, and as such Dalton was the correct test.  Although the Board determined the corrected test, they applied the Nocks factors, which was the source of legal error requiring remand.

Appellant argued that the factor test in Dalton explicitly excludes the types of intangible benefits from which the Board based its decision.  Appellee conceded the Board applied the incorrect legal test, but that such error was harmless because both tests have an identical factor, whether the recreational event provided a direct and tangible benefit to the employer.

In addition to one test appearing in the conjunctive and the other in the disjunctive, another difference exists between the two tests.  Under Dalton, the benefit the employer receives must be a “substantial direct benefit.”  Intangible benefits, such as increased efficiency and morale, are excluded from consideration under the “substantial direct benefit” standard because such benefits arise out of many games played “whether connected with his work or not.”

The Court remanded the matter back to the Board for a full analysis of the course and scope of employment under the Dalton lens to determine whether the probable increased productivity from the games amounted to a “substantial direct benefit”.

Read the full opinion here.

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