McNamara v. Hamden

Decision Date25 April 1978
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court


F. Woodward Lewis, with whom were Ellen L. Sostman and, on the brief, Joseph M. Delaney, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Bruce W. Thompson, for the appellee (defendant).

Clifford Davis filed a brief as amicus curiae.


This appeal presents a question under the Workmen's Compensation Act, General Statutes, chapter 568: whether an injury sustained while the plaintiff was engaged in a customary and permitted game of ping-pong on his employer's premises before the start of the work day, using equipment purchased by the employees, arose out of and in the course of his employment so that it was error to deny him compensation.

The compensation commissioner's finding and award discloses the following facts: On April 15, 1975, the plaintiff was employed by the public works department of the defendant town of Hamden. The work day was from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Some of the work force of about eighty employees were in the habit of assembling in the department's garage about a half hour before 8 a.m. They drank coffee, talked and generally passed the time until they went "on the clock" at 8 a.m. and received the day's assignments from their supervisors. A few months prior to April 15, about ten or twelve of the "earlybirds" obtained permission from the "director or the assistant director" of the department to purchase a ping-pong table and accessories at their own expense and to install the table near their lockers located in a corner of the garage.

The playing space was about twenty-five feet by twenty-five feet. The employer limited the playing time as follows: from about 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m.; from noon to 12:30 p.m., which was lunch time; and from about 4 p.m., as the employees gathered towards the end of the work day, until 4:30 p.m., when they went "off the clock." Eventually about twenty of the department's eighty employees used the table. A superintendent sometimes played.

On April 15, 1975, at 7:55 a.m., the plaintiff tripped and fell while playing ping-pong, severely injuring his right ankle. As a consequence he lost time from work and incurred medical and hospital expenses for which he claimed workmen's compensation benefits.

From these subordinate facts the commissioner concluded that no benefit accrued to the employer from the employees' playing ping-pong; that the table was for the exclusive use and benefit of the players; and that, therefore, ping-pong was not an incident of the plaintiff's employment or connected with it in any manner so as to require the employer to pay compensation. The commissioner dismissed the plaintiff's claim and an appeal was taken to the Court of Common Pleas, where the trial court found that the plaintiff had failed to meet his burden of proof and dismissed the appeal. In denying compensation both the commissioner and the trial court seized upon the lack of benefit to the employer. The plaintiff has appealed to this court from the judgment rendered.

The issue before us is whether the commissioner properly concluded that the plaintiff's injury was one not "arising out of and in the course of his employment" within the meaning of General Statutes § 31-284, a provision of the Workmen's Compensation Act.

It is an axiom of workmen's compensation law that awards are determined by a two-part test. The employee has the burden of proving that the injury claimed arose out of the employment and occurred in the course of the employment. "There must be a conjunction of the two requirements, `in the course of the employment' and `out of the employment' to permit compensation. The former relates to the time, place and circumstance of the accident, while the latter refers to the origin and cause of the accident." Stakonis v. United Advertising Corporation, 110 Conn. 384, 389, 148 A. 334 (1929); Dombach v. Olkon Corporation, 163 Conn. 216, 221, 302 A.2d 270 (1972); Farnham v. Labutis, 147 Conn. 267, 269, 160 A.2d 120 (1960); Triano v. United States Rubber Co., 144 Conn. 393, 396, 132 A.2d 570 (1957). While easily stated, this test has been confused over the years. "Its formulation has been easier than its application." Herbst v. Hat Corporation of America, 130 Conn. 1, 5, 31 A.2d 329 (1943). This confusion has developed as a result of a half century of factual variations on the legal rule. We take this opportunity to reaffirm the basic analysis to be applied in workmen's compensation cases, and to set forth a new and expanded test for cases like the present one.

On the record before us, it appears that the parties, the commissioner, and the court have implicitly treated the injury sustained as one "arising out of" the employment, and their focus on this appeal has been on the "in the course of" employment aspect of the test. Thus, we will confine our discussion and review to that element in deciding this case.

In order to come within the course of the employment, an injury must occur (a) within the period of the employment; (b) at a place the employee may reasonably be; and (c) while the employee is reasonably fulfilling the duties of the employment or doing something incidental to it. Stakonis v. United Advertising Corporation, supra, 389. In the present case the employee was not fulfilling an employment duty, and therefore the proper inquiry under part (c) of the test will be whether the activity, playing ping-pong, was incidental to his employment.

First, the plaintiff was clearly at a place he could reasonably be, on the premises just before he "clocked in." And he was, according to the definition developed in workmen's compensation law, within the period of employment, regardless of the fact that it was five minutes prior to the commencement of the official work day. The exact time is notof the official work day. The exact time is not significant, so long as the employee is on the premises reasonably close to the start or finish of the work day. Mascika v. Connecticut Tool & Engineering Co., 109 Conn. 473, 480, 147 A. 11 (1929); see Hughes v. American Brass Co., 141 Conn. 231, 234, 104 A.2d 896 (1954); Johnson v. Wiese, 125 Conn. 238, 239, 5 A.2d 19 (1939). Moreover, even when an employee is still in the process of coming to or going from work, once he or she is on the premises, whether arriving a little early, or leaving a little late, this court has found the employee to be within the period of the employment. Davis, "Workmen's Compensation in Connecticut—The Necessary Work Connection," 7 Conn. L. Rev. 199, 215-16 (1973-1974), and cases cited therein. Therefore, a distinction based on an activity's occurring five minutes before work, as opposed to at lunch or during the last half hour of the work day, would be unwarranted especially because both the early gathering and the recreation involved here were together designated by the employer as permissible activities.

The crux of this case rests, therefore, on the proper application of the second portion of part (c) of the course of employment test: whether the injury sustained occurred when the employee was doing something "incidental to the employment." It is this inquiry that has been most subject to distortion from one type of case to another. The "going and coming" cases, in which the employee is injured traveling to or from work; Taylor v. M.A. Gammino Construction Co., 127 Conn. 528, 532, 18 A.2d 400 (1941); and cases cited therein; "personal comfort" cases, in which the employee is attending to some personal need when injured; Puffin v. General Electric Co., 132 Conn. 279, 43 A.2d 746 (1945); Lovallo v. American Brass Co., 112 Conn. 635, 153 A. 783 (1931); and "horseplay" cases, in which an employee is injured while wrestling; Shedlock v. Cudahy Packing Co., 134 Conn. 672, 60 A.2d 514 (1948); Philippe v. Balco, Inc., 12 Conn. Comp. Dec. 35 (1942); have become special categories in the law. See Davis, "Workmen's Compensation," supra, discussing cases by category. In the process special tests have evolved for each factual variation.

For example, in the going and coming cases, it is necessary for the commissioner to find a benefit to the employer before compensation will be awarded. McKiernan v. New Haven, 151 Conn. 496, 499, 199 A.2d 695 (1964). As a result, in going and coming cases that have also involved recreational or social aspects, as when an employee is on the way to a union-sponsored picnic, the benefit test has been applied. Williams v. State, 152 Conn. 692, 211 A.2d 700 (1965); see Smith v. Seamless Rubber Co., 111 Conn. 365, 368-69, 150 A. 110 (1930). There is a crucial difference between the going and coming cases (whether or not they also involve the element of recreation) and other types, because in the going and coming cases the injury has not occurred on the premises of the employer. See True v. Longchamps, Inc., 171 Conn. 476, 478-79, 370 A.2d 1018 (1976); Dombach v. Olkon Corporation, 163 Conn. 216, 222, 302 A.2d 270 (1972). Therefore, the need arose to reach out for the additional element of employer benefit to make up for the fact that employees going to or coming from work do not satisfy both of the first two course-of-employment requirements, place and period of employment. "If the recreational activity takes place on some distant vacant lot, several hours after the day's work has ceased, some independently convincing association with the employment must be built up to overcome the initial presumption of disassociation with the employment established by the time and place factors." 1A Larson, Workmen's Compensation Law § 22.11, p. 5-72 (1978).

When an employee is on the premises and is within the period of employment, however, it should not be necessary to satisfy the additional test of...

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