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LOVE IS IN THE AIR

By: Betsy Campo, Partner, Gainesville

Ahhh…it is February, the month best known for Valentine’s Day and the celebration of love.  Much has been written about love. Love is a many-splendored thing.  All you need is love. Love makes the world go round. Love causes an increase in your experience mod. Wait…what?  Okay, that last one might not be quite as universally known as the others, but I suspect it could be true. After all, did you know that, other than during the summer months, February is the month of the year during which more average on the job injuries occur per day? Could it be that love is the culprit?   

If you consider that most workplace accidents occur as a result of employees who are either distracted or who are tired, love could very well be the cause. People who experience sleep deprivation may be more at risk for workplace injuries and accidents. Similarly, when employees are distracted, they fail to see hazards which can lead to injuries. Love certainly causes more than its fair share of sleepless nights and distractions, both good and bad. So, does the celebration of the love holiday in February have so much impact that workers are extra tired and distracted, leading to a spike in injuries during the month?  Maybe, although, there isn’t any empirical evidence proving that to be true. What is true, however, is that love and relationships can create workers’ compensation exposure at times, and in Florida we have some pretty colorful case scenarios exemplifying this. 

For instance, there is the case of the love triangle among fellow seafood workers. Apparently, Donald Fields was “playing the field” among his co-workers at the seafood processing plant by dating two of them at the same time. When the female co-workers found out about each other, a fight broke out at work. One of the girls was stabbed in the side with a shrimp knife. She decided to extract her revenge by filing a workers’ compensation claim against their employer for her injuries. The employer initially denied the benefits, determining that the dispute was personal in nature and it was merely fortuitous that they were on the job site at the time of the injury. The First DCA disagreed. The appellate court determined that, because this love triangle relationship originated at work, because the three worked in such close proximity to each other, and because the knife used to stab the claimant was an instrumentality of employment, this was a compensable injury.  Tampa Maid Seafood Products v. Porter, 415 So.2d 883 (Fla.1st DCA 1982).

Similarly, there is the case of the scorned ex-lover, who returned to the workplace to attack her former flame a month after he broke up with her.  The JCC ruled that the injury was not compensable because the altercation was personal in nature; however, just as in the facts of the last case, because the relationship started at work and the knife used in the attack was an instrumentality of employment, the 1st DCA determined that the claimant’s injuries were compensable.  Carnegie v. Pan American Linen, 476 So.2d 311 (Fla.1st DCA 1985).

Love can also drive one to do crazy things. There is the case of the grocery store worker who reported to her boyfriend that a male coworker was harassing her on the job. In an effort to defend her honor, the boyfriend showed up at her job in his vehicle and rammed into the male in the parking lot, killing him.  The boyfriend confessed that he had been planning the attack for several weeks, and he had learned that the decedent routinely retrieved the carts from the parking lot at night.  The injury in this case was initially denied by the JCC, since the assault had nothing to do with work, the car was not an instrument of employment, and the decedent and attacker didn’t know one another.  The JCC determined that the location of the assault was merely fortuitous.  On appeal, however, the First DCA disagreed.  The Court ruled that being struck by a vehicle was a risk inherent with collecting shopping carts from the parking lot at night, so the injury was compensable. Santizo-Perez v. Genaro’s Corp., 138 So.3d 1148 (Fla.1st DCA 2014).

Thankfully, the cases involving injuries inflicted by a vengeful lover at work are rare, but be mindful that the exposure exists. If the circumstances are right, the E/C could be responsible for paying for those types of injuries. It is much more likely that you will have a claimant who trips and falls on the way to the bathroom while reading a text from a love interest or that a tired employee will miss crucial safety steps in an otherwise routine procedure, causing injury to himself or others. There might just be something to the theory that Valentine’s Day is the culprit behind a spike in work injuries during the month of February. Let’s just hope that my theory is wrong and that Cupid’s arrow doesn’t hit your pocketbook this month in the form of increased claims!

If you need CEU credits and want to hear more about cases like those mentioned here, ask for our “Office Relationships Gone Wrong” seminar.