Chaperone’s Injury Field Trip For School Is Covered By Workers Compensation

In Karen Sikorski’s Case, SJC-10481A (12/11/09). the Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that a Massachusetts public school teacher is entitled to workers’ compensation for an injury she suffered while chaperoning a school-sponsored ski trip, even though she volunteered for the assignment and the injury occurred while on the slopes.

The SJC rejected the City’s argument that the teacher was ineligible for coverage because she volunteered to chaperone the field trip and because she injured herself in the course of “recreational activity.” To determine whether an injury is entitled to coverage, the Court said that several factors must be weighed, including: (1) the customary nature of the activity; (2) the employer’s encouragement or subsidization of the activity; (3) the extent to which the employer managed or directed the activity; (4) the presence of pressure or compulsion to participate; and (5) the employer’s expected or actual benefit from the employee’s participation.

The SJC had little difficulty in affirming that this teacher’s chaperoning of this field trip met the standard for workers’ compensation coverage. First, teachers customarily served as chaperones for ski club field trips and acted as teachers while they did. Second, the City encouraged teachers to participate as ski club chaperones. Third and finally, the ski club trips benefit the City by furthering the school’s broad educational mission, as confirmed by the City’s financial support for the ski club, the advisors and the chaperones.

Injuries that arise from recreational activity normally is not subject to workers’ compensation. However, the Court concluded that this situation did not fit within that exception because the teacher was required to be on the ski slopes supervising the students, and her injury occurred during her performance of that function.

This case is a helpful victory for employees who assume additional responsibilities for the employer, even if it involves a fun activity such as a ski field trip. The principles underlying this decision likely will provide useful guidance in the context of G.L. c.41, §111F claims for police officers and firefighters. But one should be careful not to read this decision too broadly – injuries that occur during a voluntary activity that do not relate to work place functions, such as a voluntary social gathering or golf fundraiser, may not necessarily be covered. If injured in a non-traditional work function, you should contact your union representative, Sandulli Grace, PC, or another legal representative to discuss your options for relief.

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