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Is an Injury Caused by Horseplay Covered by Workers’ Comp?

Texas Workers' Compensation Defense - Worker Was Injured While Horseplaying

The whole idea behind the Texas' workers' compensation system is that any employee who works for a company that subscribes to workers' comp coverage is eligible to receive automatic compensation in the form of benefits, should they become hurt on the job. In the early days of Texas, work injuries were treated like any other personal injury case, meaning that injured workers had to sue their employers in court, which is a fairly uncomfortable proposition. By taking work injury cases out of the court system and instead treating them more like a claim for unemployment or disability benefits, Texas lawmakers hoped to create a non-adversarial system to compensate injured workers.

And while workers' comp ostensibly covers injured workers irrespective of fault, Texas lawmakers still allowed a few defenses that employers could use to deny paying injured workers. One such defense is called the "horseplay defense." When applicable, attorneys for the employer can argue that the employer does not have to provide workers' comp coverage on the basis that the employee injured himself while essentially goofing off.

The only problem with this defense is that many employers like to say it applies to situations where the injured worker did no such thing. In this article, Texas workers' compensation attorney Michael Grossman explains how the horseplay defense works, and when it's appropriate for it to be used and when it is not.

Questions answered on this page:

  • What is an injury caused by horseplay?
  • When can an employer use the "horseplay" defense in a workers' comp case?
  • How can a lawyer help me if my employer is refusing to pay my workers' comp benefits?

Overview of the defenses employers can use to deny benefits:

In total, Texas labor law creates eight defense that employers can use against injured workers as the basis of denying them benefits. These defenses are:

If the employer can successfully argue any of these defenses, then the employee is completely barred from receiving workers' compensation benefits.

How the horseplay defense works:

Essentially, employers can argue that horseplay led to the accident and subsequent injury. Horseplay refers to activities that are dangerous to you and your coworkers. Below are some examples of what is and isn't horseplay:

  • Let's say Mary and Steve work the same shift and have become friends. They make jokes with one another, laugh, and generally enjoy their time together. If Steve were to jokingly poke Mary gently on the arm while asking her to take his next customer in line, that's not horseplay. That's not going to cause an injury, and that kind of connection between coworkers is expected. The working world doesn't expect Mary and Steve to be robots all day long.
  • However, if Steve were to arm wrestle Mary, dislocating her shoulder, that is considered horseplay. The idea is that arm wrestling could cause some major injuries to Mary, but, more importantly, this is a task that has nothing whatsoever to do with their job functions.

The clearest way to determine if the activity that an employee may be doing is inappropriate is just to put it to a simple question test: Is this within the normal bounds of workplace behavior? If yes, such as throwing a paper ball into a trashcan, then sure that's probably not true horseplay. If it's a risky, dangerous thing such as a co-worker bringing a pair of nunchucks into work for employees to practice their ninja skills with, then that's obviously not within the normal bounds of workplace behavior, and is probably not acceptable.

Where This Defense Goes Awry

This kind of defense can make an employee super cautious about everything they do while on the clock. It can be kind of intimidating, when you think about it. However, what we stress to our clients who've been injured and their employer is attempting to use this defense is that, just think about the action and the injury, and consider if it was truly horseplay or normal behavior? To put it simply, not every deviation from work activities is horseplay, but understand that some employers will argue that it is. Horseplay is one of the few defenses that can get blurry and that can sometimes work to the employer's advantage.

Don't Let This Defense Deny You Benefits You're Owed

Let's face it, the defenses we cover in this section of our site are only supposed to be used in the purest sense and only if the inherent accusation against the employee is actually true, but that's not always the case. Employers and their insurance carriers will use these defenses to completely shut down your workers' comp claim, leaving you, the injured employee, empty-handed and lacking seemingly automatic benefits. Make sure to have a lawyer on your side to review your case, get your side of the story, and take on your employer if needed. Our Dallas, TX firm has been handling work injury cases for 25 years, and we know how to handle cases where employers try to refuse paying workers' comp benefits. Call the workers' compensation attorneys at Grossman Law Offices at (855) 326-0000 for a free consultation.

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