COA holds that volunteer work was incidental to man’s employment

A general contractor’s volunteer work was incidental to his professional employment, so the injuries he sustained during the volunteer work must be covered under the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Act.

That was the Indiana Court of Appeals’ decision in John C. Morris v. Custom Kitchen & Baths, 93A02-1601-EX-179. John Morris obtained his general contractor’s license in 2011 and formed a sole proprietorship, Custom Kitchen & Baths, to design and renovate kitchens and baths from start to finish. Morris often used his skills to perform volunteer projects in the Vanderburgh County community through either his church or the Boy Scouts, and that volunteer work often led to more business for his professional contracting work.

In August 2012, Morris was working on a volunteer project with the Boy Scouts at an Evansville church when he fell from the roof of a storage shed and fractured his right leg, resulting in three separate surgeries. After his injury, Morris filed a claim with CKB’s workers’ compensation carrier, West Bend Mutual Insurance Carrier, and with the church’s liability carrier and the Boy Scouts’ insurance carrier, all of whom paid money to or on behalf of Morris that totaled more than $100,000.

Then in February 2013, Morris filed an application for adjustment of claim with the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Board, but the application was denied at a single member hearing. He then filed his application before the full board, which also denied his application. In its finding, the board held that Morris had failed to meet his burden of showing that his injuries arouse out of and occurred in the course of his employment.

Morris appealed and CKB cross-appealed, seeking reimbursement of money paid to or on behalf of Morris. But Morris turned to the Indiana Supreme Court case of Knoy v. Cary, 813 N.E.2d 1170 (Ind. 2004), which found that “where the employer’s interests in sponsoring an after-hours activity are not merely altruistic, but are also intended to improve the business, the activity may be incidental to employment,” as an example of legal precedent holding that his work at the church was incidental to his employment.

The Indiana Court of Appeals wrote Wednesday that Morris had demonstrated “a sufficient connection between his interests in improving his business by conducting community service projects and his sole proprietorship.” Further, the appellate court pointed out that Morris had donated materials to the church project and had deducted them as a business expense and used CKB tools and equipment during the project.

Additionally, Morris testified that his business did garner a substantial amount of goodwill and additional business as a result of his work with the church project, and went so far as to describe his community endeavors as “networking.”

Thus, the appellate court found that the evidence in the case “inescapably” leads to the decision that Morris’ injury arose out of and in the course of his employment and is, therefore, covered by workers’ comp. The Court of Appeals declined to address CKB’s cross-appeal and instead remanded the case for determination of the benefits Morris should receive.

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