Two correctional officers had a physical fight at work, resulting in injuries. The injured officer filed a workers’ compensation claim, which the State denied. At a hearing, the injured officer testified to a series of six incidents of conflict between him and the other officer. All of these occurred at work, and the officers never spoke to each other outside of work. After the hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found the first incident was work-related but the remaining five, including the fight, were all personal in nature. The ALJ emphasized that the conflict continued despite a lengthy “cooling off” period after the first incident. The ALJ denied the claim initially and upon review. The injured officer then filed this special action.
The Court of Appeals deferred to the ALJ’s factual findings but disagreed with the conclusion that the assault did not “arise out of” employment. Workers’ compensation claims must satisfy the “quantum theory of work connection.” That requires that the injury “arise out of” and “in the course of” employment. There was no dispute that this fight, which occurred at work while the officers were on duty, was “in the course of” employment. The “arising out of” requirement can be satisfied if the dispute is work related. Alternatively, a dispute unrelated to work can still “arise out of” employment if work brought the participants together and created the “friction and strain” that led to the clash.
The Court of Appeals held that an assault arises out of employment when the employees have no personal relationship outside of work. Although a “cooling off” period between the original work-related dispute and the subsequent fight can be relevant, it is not controlling. Here, the parties’ interactions all occurred at work and so the passage of time does not change the nature of the interaction. The Court of Appeals set aside the ALJ’s determination and remanded.
Judge McMurdie authored the opinion; Judges Johnsen and Weinzweig concurred.
Posted by: Brian K. Mosley