Workplace Horseplay Ends When Woman Loses an Eye-Literally-and Files Lawsuit
Remember that football your coworkers throw around the office during Super Bowl week? Or the putting exercises your boss practices in the red plastic cup in his corner office?
After you read this, you'll want to duck. Or at least think twice about joining in the fun.
According to the Honolulu Advertiser, emergency telephone operators at the Honolulu Police Department were playing a game in which they were throwing a ball at each other when one of the operators was struck in the eye and suffered a detached retina.
Emergency operator Sally Crowder has filed a lawsuit against the Honolulu Police Department and co-worker Flossie Leong for serious and permanent injuries, as well as mental and emotional distress stemming from the incident. The suit seeks unspecified damages.
Crowder works in the HPD's communications division as a civilian employee, where she handles police radio communications as well as 911 emergency duties.
Her suit claims that the "game" in question involved throwing a small ball at the backs of other employees in the office. In Crowder's words, some players "would attempt to throw the ball with enough force to make the co-worker who was struck by the ball verbally express pain." The suit alleges that Crowder was "repeatedly" struck by the ball in the back of the head and in both eyes.
When another co-worker complained to a supervisor about the game, the suit continues, the supervisor rejected the complaint by asserting that "the game was therapeutic."
Yet on May 28, Crowder experienced a response that was anything but therapeutic. A ball that was thrown by Flossie Leong allegedly struck Crowder in the left eye, causing her retina to become detached. Crowder required surgery to reattach the retina.
The supervisor who had refused to stop the game, did not stop the game even after Crowder's injury, but only after Crowder filed a workers' compensation claim with the city. This workers' compensation claim was rejected by the city, according to the lawsuit.
This case recalls the Delaware personal injury case of the plaintiff who was the subject of a practical joke at work that caused him back and knee surgery. In that incident, the man was bound and gagged with duct tape and placed into a bathroom.
This decision was an important case in personal injury law, because the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, a comprehensive, authoritative treatise used by state commissions and cited by courts nationwide, could be applied to the case.
Normally, Larson's Law cannot be applied to workplace horseplay, because horseplay is typically considered to be outside of the scope of employment. However, because of the extreme nature of the horseplay and its consequences, the court ruled that Larson's could apply to the case.
There is no indication that Crowder will be able to pursue a similar line of reasoning in her personal injury case or workers' compensation claim, but at least there is precedent for such an action as she pursues compensation for her tragic and unexpected injuries.