Facts matter: Volleyball Referee Injured During Game is Denied Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Aug 21, 2014 | WC & Other Laws

Randy Ortiz, an elementary school counselor suffered a painful back injury when the stand he was using to referee a volleyball game causing him to fall six feet.  When he claimed workers’ compensation benefits his employer – the Pueblo City Schools denied benefits arguing that he was not injured in the course of his employment.

In order to receive workers’ compensation benefits, a worker must show that the injury occurred in the course and scope of his or her employment.  The law requires that the injury must occur while a worker is engaged in an activity that is “sufficiently interrelated to the conditions and circumstances under which the employee usually performs his job functions.”

Under this definition, even injuries that occur during breaks, or going to your parked car, or even while engaged in horseplay may be considered “work-related” so long as the activity is typically done in that job.  What activities are commonly done for a particular job will vary on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Ortiz argued that acting as a referee was part of his job.  He had recently completed his certification requirement with the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) to allow him to referee volleyball games.  On September 22, 2010 the CHSAA assigned him to referee a middle school volleyball game at a school in the Pueblo School District.  The game was organized and run by the YMCA.

Mr. Ortiz did not how much he might be paid, so when he arrived at the game he asked the middle school vice-principal.  The vice-principal said he didn’t know about the procedure for paying the officials since the district had advised that it had no budget to pay for expenses associated with sports that were not sanctioned by the school district.  Nonetheless the vice-principal gave Mr. Ortiz a District Vendor Payment Application.

The Judge determined that refereeing a middle school volleyball game was not part of Mr. Ortiz’ job as an elementary school counselor.  The Judge found that Mr. Ortiz was never paid to be referee by the school district; the district did not pay Mr. Ortiz’ cost to be certified by the CHSAA; the district did not pay for his uniform; the district did not “assign” Mr. Ortiz to referee the game; and the it was the YMCA – not the district – that arranged the game.

Other states, like New Mexico and New Jersey include injuries that occur during recreational activities that the employer knew of the activities or supplied the equipment or location.  Colorado, however specifically excludes those injuries while participating “in a voluntary recreational activity or program, regardless of whether the employer promoted, sponsored, or supported the recreational activity or program.”See CRS §8-40-301(1) & CRS 8-40-201(8).

This case illustrates how the outcome of the case can hinge on a few critical facts.  Workers’ Compensation can be difficult, confusing, and very complex.  Kaplan Morrell has helped thousands of injured workers since 1997 get the benefits they deserve.   Contact us here or call us at 303-780-7329 for your FREE CONSULTATION.

Case: Ortiz v. Pueblo School District, WC No. 4-838-088, August 21, 2013