We round out the year with a delightful discussion of a man who found a collection of high-powered fireworks while picking up items for his employer. He stored those fireworks in his lunch pail, and then started playing with one on the drive back to the workplace.

In hindsight, I’ll bet he wishes he wasn’t smoking a cigarette while he played with that explosive device. Especially since an Indiana Court of Appeals has denied him workers’ comp benefits for the accident.

According to the Indiana Lawyer Blog,  the employee was working for a Habitat thrift store when he and a coworker were sent to retrieve items donated by a local businessman. The businessman had operated a fireworks and Halloween store, and had donated a sign and desk to Habitat after selling his building to another company.

According to court records, the two Habitat employees loaded the sign and desk into their truck, and one of them found an ammunition box containing fireworks called Talons. Our budding rocket scientist removed the Talons from the ammunition box and placed them in his lunch pail, which he put on the center console of their vehicle. As they were driving back to Habitat, he removed one of the Talons from his lunch pail.

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

The injured employee filed for workers’ compensation benefits, which were denied by a hearing officer. The hearing officer determined that the injury did not arise out of and in the course of his employment.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, with Judge Cale Bradford writing, “A worker who is engaged in horseplay …  is not entitled to worker’s compensation… Here, to the extent that the Board might not have been unequivocal in concluding that [employee’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.

The decision continues with, “While confined inside a moving vehicle, [employee] removed the firework from inside his lunch pail and held it in his left hand. [He] acknowledged that this firework was no longer properly assembled, because it was missing the stick it would normally be attached to. Both [men] also knew this firework was dangerous because someone they knew had recently died as a result of an injury sustained from a firework, and [co-worker] cautioned [employee] to be careful not to light it. Nonetheless, they chose to smoke cigarettes near the short-fused, softball-sized firework. Moreover, [co-worker] 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 [employee] to be uncredible, noting that his ‘version of events relies on a series of coincidences[,]’.

The injured worker originally claimed that the donor had given him the fireworks; a claim that the donor directly denied. At least the court didn’t declare the guy to be an outright dumbass. It is hard to believe that a person who would hold a damaged explosive device in his hand while smoking a cigarette in a moving vehicle might actually lie about the event. 

Frankly, it is just fortunate that he wasn’t wearing his lucky gas can. That would’ve made this a much bigger deal. 

So, in Indiana, sanity prevails. Injuries that are the result of playing with found fireworks while holding a burning cigarette are not an expected part of delivering donated items. Stupid outside the course and scope of employment is not compensable. 

It should be noted, however, that stupid within the course and scope is still compensable, and there is probably still plenty of that to keep us all busy for the foreseeable future.


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