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Under the first prong of the test of the right to participate in the Workers’ Compensation Fund, an injury is compensable if it is sustained by an employee while that employee engages in activity that is consistent with the contract for hire and logically related to the employer's business. This is a mixed question of fact and law.
Plaintiff-Appellant Tyrone Cotton was working as a janitorial supervisor for defendant-appellee Eastway Corporation (Eastway). Plaintiff’s job was to clean the break room, dump the trash, wipe tables, and check the restrooms to make sure they were adequately stocked and the toilets were not either stopped-up or overflowing. Plaintiff also did favors at work that were not noted as janitorial duties in his job description. On the day of the incident, plaintiff was asked by an Eastway case-worker if he could help retrieve some potato chips that had gotten stuck in the vending machine. Plaintiff injured his foot in the process. Plaintiff filed a worker’s compensation claim, which was initially allowed by a Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) hearing officer. However, upon Eastway’s appeal, plaintiff’s claim was denied. Plaintiff then appealed to the Industrial Commission, which filed an order refusing to hear the appeal. Plaintiff subsequently appealed to the common pleas court, but dismissed his appeal without prejudice. Plaintiff refiled his appeal in April 2009. Ultimately, the BWC filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that plaintiff was not acting in the course of his employment when he was injured. The trial court agreed, and rendered summary judgment in favor of the BWC. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial court erred because his injuries were within the course of, and arising out of, his employment.
Under the circumstances, was the grant of summary judgment in favor of BWC proper?
The appellate court held that the trial court erred in rendering summary judgment in favor of the BWC. Whether the injury arose in the course of employment was a mixed question of law and fact, and genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment for either party. Ohio allowed workers’ compensation benefits where the employer's "company policy" obliged employees to go to the aid of fellow employees. Although there was no evidence that the plaintiff’s actions in tipping a vending machine were taken at the employer’s insistence or permission, or with the employer’s knowledge and acquiescence, the actions were not done for the purpose of "horseplay," and were not the result of a frolic and detour. The plaintiff was not on break at the time, and was attempting to aid a fellow employee in a situation that a reasonable fact-finder could have concluded was related to his janitorial duties. Summary judgment, therefore, should not have been rendered for either side.