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Municipal worker not given workers’ comp after smoking e-cig

Workers’ compensation is a safety net that covers tens of millions of employees and pays out trillions of dollars to those injured on the job. If you've been hurt while working, odds are you appreciated the security of having workers’ comp help cover medical bills and other expenses.

It’s true that only people injured as a direct result of doing their job may receive benefits, but there are rare cases in which even people hurt while on the job are denied compensation, as well. This was the situation in Winston-Salem a few years ago when a utility crew supervisor suffered a back injury during his lunch break.

Workers compensation is not guaranteed

According to the Insurance Journal, Larry Brooks was taking his lunch at a local gas station when he suddenly suffered a coughing fit. Brooks had been smoking an electronic cigarette in a city truck, and quickly opened the door to get some air. He staggered out the truck and passed out. In his fall, he landed on the curb and injured his back.

Brooks recovered, but was put on restrictions by his doctor and not allowed to return to work. His employer refused to pay workers’ compensation to cover lost wages and medical bills.

Appealing the denial in court

Brooks quickly found legal counsel and appealed his claim denial. When asked what the cause of his coughing fit was, Brooks explained that he was diabetic but had been off his medicine. He also was not used to smoking e-cigarettes.

His doctor later confirmed that a combination of high blood pressure, high blood sugar and smoking directly led to the black out and resulting back injury.

It appears that the requirements for a workers’ compensation payout were satisfied by this accident; Brooks sustained a serious injury while on the job. Despite this, a three-judge panel still denied Brooks’ appeal.

The courts verdict

The court determined that a combination of Brooks’ own actions and his existing medical conditions were the cause of his fall and resulting back injury.

“While admittedly Brooks would not have been at the gas station but for his job,” the court ruling stated, “his fall was not traceable to the conditions of his employment. He chose to purchase an e-cigarette, return to the truck, smoke the cigarette, and ultimately step outside of the truck to get fresh air. None of these actions were required by his employment or served to benefit his employer.”

Since Brooks’ employer did not require him to forego taking his diabetes medication and to smoke, his injury was ultimately not their fault. This is just one instance of a typical worker being denied workers’ compensation, but is an excellent example of how quickly these matters can become murky.

If you are injured while on the job, make sure to report your injury to your supervisor. Once the incident is on the record, speak to a personal injury attorney. Time is always of the essence when it comes to workers’ compensation – having a professional on your side will streamline the process so you can focus on recovering.

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