Safety Procedures, Willful Misconduct and Workers’ Compensation

Willful misconduct and workers compensation claims in tnIf you have been injured on the job, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.  The key word is “may.”  Just because an individual is injured while at work, does not automatically guarantee them benefits under the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act.  Tennessee Code Annotated 50-6-110 holds in part that no compensation shall be allowed for an injury or death due to the employee’s willful misconduct, the employee’s intentional self-inflicted injury, the employee’s willful failure or refusal to use a safety devise or the employee’s willful failure to perform a duty required by law.  It may seem obvious that a person is not entitled to benefits if they are injured as a result of their own willful or intentional actions.  However, applied to certain facts, the outcome might not be what you think.

How willful misconduct can impact your workers’ compensation claim

An important case construing the above referenced statute is Mitchell v. Fayetteville Public Utilities, 368 S.W.3d 442 (Tenn. 2012).  While in a bucket lift near the top of a new pole preparing to attach a lightning arrestor, a copper ground wire that the employee held in his bare hands came into contact with a transformer.  The employee suffered electrical burns to his hands and his side.  The employee required a total of eight surgeries on his hands.  The employer denied workers’ compensation benefits on the basis that the employee had removed his protective gloves before attempting to install metal staples in the crossarm of the pole, a violation of the Employer’s safety policy.  The employee testified that he had worn his protective gloves when lifted in the bucket as he covered the “hot” lines on the lower pole with rubber blankets and hosing.  The employee, believing he in was in the “safe zone” and “clear” of the danger five feet below, took off his gloves to hammer a metal staple.  The employee testified that it was easier to hammer without the gloves and that he didn’t want to puncture the gloves.  After a trial, the employee was awarded benefits.  The employer appealed and the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the trial court, holding that the employee had willfully violated the safety policy of the employer.  The employee was unable to collect any benefits under the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act.

Following required safety procedures will help your claim get approved

The result was very unfortunate for Mr. Mitchell. His case, among others, is analyzed and used by employees and employers in arguments for and against covering workers who are injured on the job.  The important lesson to workers is to make sure to follow the safety procedures put in place by the employer.  Do not remove a glove in a dangerous area to get a better grip, do not remove a hard hat in a dangerous area to scratch your head and do not remove a brightly colored vest that is mandatory.  The possibilities are numerous.  If you do and are injured, you may not be able to collect any workers’ compensation benefits.

No matter what, if you’ve been injured at work call Rocky McElhaney Law Firm now!

Even if you think willful misconduct could hurt your claim, call Rocky McElhaney Law Firm today. These cases are not as straightforward as you may think. If you or anyone you know has been injured in a work related incident, please call us as soon as possible to see if we can help.