A Tustle Down Under Considered Compensable
A strange set of facts was recently presented to a workers’ compensation Magistrate in Melbourne, Australia.
The injured employee in this case was Matthew Styles, a manager at the Boronia Red Rooster restaurant. Apparently, the entire fiasco started when an angry customer asked Mr. Styles if his food would be ready “today,” to which Mr. Styles responded that it would be ready tomorrow. The customer, unwilling to allow this attack on his honor to go unnoticed, then punched a window and told Mr. Styles, “I’m gonna find ya and kill ya.” This led to Styles and the customer hurling insults at each other until they eventually settled their disagreement by having an old fashioned brawl.
During the ensuing fight, Mr. Styles broke his wrist after “repeatedly thumping” the customer. Afterwards, he was fired by Red Rooster and his workers’ compensation claim was denied. However, a Magistrate found that Mr. Styles was entitled to benefits because the customer was the aggressor and the injury occurred in the course of his employment.
My Two Cents:
While at first glance a worker receiving workers’ compensation benefits because they were involved in a fight might seem odd, it might not be so unreasonable. The same thing could happen in Alabama.
In Beverly v. Ruth’s Chris Steak House, two employees became involved in an altercation when one employee prevented another from stealing food from the restaurant. In return, twenty minutes later the would-be food thief poured three gallons of boiling water over the honest employee and a fight ensued. The injured worker filed suit for workers’ compensation benefits but lost at the trial court level. On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals found the injury compensable. The Court found that, because the dispute was work-related, it fell within the scope of the employee’s employment.
Extending this reasoning to the Australian situation, if an employee and a customer engaged in a fight that arose from the scope of the employee’s duties, it is possible that an Alabama court could find any injuries the employee suffered compensable.