Simms v. Ruby Tuesday, Inc., et al., 281 Va. 114, 704 S.E.2d 359 (2011)

Simms v. Ruby Tuesday involves an interpretation and clarification of the “horseplay” doctrine. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held that the Claimant’s claim was compensable as he was an innocent victim of horseplay. In this case, the Claimant worked at a restaurant and some of his co-workers were throwing ice at him. Claimant injured his shoulder when he lifted his arm to block the ice. Initially, the deputy commissioner held the injury to be compensable and found that the claimant was an innocent victim of horseplay. On appeal to the full Commission, the Commission reversed and stated that although the Claimant was an innocent victim of horseplay, based upon the recent decision in Hilton v. Martin, 275 Va. 176, 654 S.E.2d 572 (2008), there was no connection between the conditions under which the employer required the work to be performed and the assault by the co-workers. On appeal to the Court of Appeals, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission and agreed with the» analysis of Hilton and refused to conclude that the Claimant’s injury arose out of his employment since this causal connection was not present.

The Virginia Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held that the Claimant’s injury is compensable and did arise out of his employment. Essentially, the Court is instructing that the task now is to differentiate whether the horseplay is done in a playful and joking manner, or if it is more akin to an assault. To explain, the Court states that “[i]n essence, the playful or joking actions of the fellow employee are found to be an actual risk of the employment because horseplay is a natural incident of work….unlike assault cases where a causal connection needs to be proven between the assault and the employment, when a fellow employee engages in horseplay by doing something in a playful or joking manner that injures an innocent nonparticipating co-worker, such injury is inherent to the injured co-worker’s employment or is directed toward the co-worker as an employee.”

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