Man injured in fireworks blast loses appeal for worker’s comp benefits

A man injured by a fireworks explosion lost an appeal for worker’s compensation benefits, with the Indiana Court of Appeals finding his story explaining how the mishap occurred a bit too farfetched.

In 2015, Andrew Hall was working for a Habitat for Humanity of Grant County thrift store when he and a coworker, Alonzo Hill, were sent to retrieve items donated by Ron Vielee. The donor had operated a fireworks and Halloween store out of a warehouse and decided to donate a sign and desk to Habitat after selling the warehouse to CVS Systems, according to Thursday’s memorandum decision.

“Hall and Hill loaded the sign and desk into Hall’s truck, and, at some point, Hall came into possession of an ammunition box containing fireworks called Talons,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote for the panel. “Hall testified that the Talons were given to him by Vielee; however, Vielee denied giving the Talons to Hall. Hall removed the Talons from the ammunition box and placed them in his lunch pail, which sat atop the center console of his vehicle. As Hall drove the donations back to Habitat, he removed one of the Talons from his lunch pail.

“As Hall held the Talon in his left hand, Hill was smoking a cigarette, and Hall was either holding or smoking a cigarette. Hill reminded Hall to be careful not to light the Talon because they knew someone who had recently died due to an incident involving fireworks. Following Hill’s warning, Hall heard the passenger-side window being rolled down and the firework exploded. Hill heard the sudden explosion and Hall screaming. Hill managed to steer the vehicle into a Dollar General parking lot and emergency personnel arrived to transport Hall to the hospital, who had suffered severe injuries to his left hand.”

After Hall filed an application for adjustment of claim for worker’s compensation, a single hearing officer concluded in February that his injuries did not arise out of and in the course of his employment. The full board affirmed that decision in June, and the Court of Appeals upheld it Thursday in Andrew Hall v. Habitat for Humanity of Grant County, Inc. (mem. dec.), 19A-EX-1443.

“A worker who is engaged in horseplay … is not entitled to worker’s compensation …,” Bradford wrote. “Here, to the extent that the Board might not have been unequivocal in concluding that Hall’s actions amounted to horseplay, such a conclusion is amply supported by evidence in the record, and we may affirm on any basis supported by the record.

“… While confined inside a moving vehicle, Hall removed the firework from inside his lunch pail and held it in his left hand. Hall acknowledged that this firework was no longer properly assembled, because it was missing the stick it would normally be attached to. Both Hall and Hill also knew this firework was dangerous because someone they knew had recently died as a result of an injury sustained from a firework, and Hill cautioned Hall to be careful not to light it. Nonetheless, they chose to smoke cigarettes near the short-fused, softball-sized firework. Moreover, Hall claimed that the explosion must have occurred after a cigarette spark was swept up into the crosswind from the open window and then ignited the fuse of the firework. The Board, however, found Hall to be uncredible, noting that his ‘version of events relies on a series of coincidences[,]’” the panel held in affirming the denial of benefits.

This article was first published by The Indiana Lawyer.

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