No Accidental Disability Retirement for Horseplay

Joseph Indrisano was an operations and maintenance supervisor in the Worcester Trial Courthouse. While engaged in horseplay with his friends, he sustained a disabling injury. It was determined that the injury was not sustained in the performance of his duties, so his Accidental Disability Retirement claim was denied.

Specifically, one of Mr. Indrisano’s co-workers stood aggressively like a bear. He hunched his shoulders as if to stand his ground or to attack. He held his arms in front of him, as a weight-lifter showing off his muscles would. This caused another co-worker to back away from him.  This employee who was in this bear-like posture walked playfully towards Mr. Indrisano, who lost his balance and fell. The next day he reported the injuries which he sustained in the fall when he landed hard on his back.

In the case of Damiano v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Board, 72 Mass. App. Ct. 259 (2008), the Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled that an employee who is injured by a fellow employee’s goofing off at work is not entitled to accidental disability retirement benefits. The goofing off can include horseplay, behavior that might turn into horseplay, as here, and other behavior.

The Magistrate ruled that physical contact between two employees is not required to uphold a denial. If hypothetically in Damiano, Police Dispatcher Teresa Damiano had successfully fled the police officer’s attempt to put her into a headlock, and the police officer never touched her, but Ms. Damiano tripped while fleeing and injured her wrist and elbow, the Appeals Court’s decision would almost certainly have been the same.

To qualify for accidental disability retirement, an applicant must prove total and permanent disability by reason of a personal injury sustained or a hazard undergone as a result of, and while in the performance of, his duties at some definite place and at some definite time. G.L. c. 32, § 7. Accidental disability retirement can be awarded only when a regional medical panel majority concludes that the applicant is incapable of performing the essential duties of the job, that the incapacity is permanent, and that the incapacity might be the natural and proximate result of the personal injury sustained or hazard undergone in the course of employment. See Malden Retirement Bd. v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Bd., 1 Mass. App. Ct. 420, 423 (1973).

It has been judicially determined that on-duty injuries sustained due to goofing off or horseplay in the workplace, which render a person unable to perform his or her essential job functions, are not sufficient grounds for accidental disability retirement benefits because the injuries were not sustained while in the performance of an employee’s duties.