Hurt on the job while hooping? Might be a Workers Comp case.

Great decision out of the First District Appellate Court last year on an interesting Workers Comp issue. In Calumet Sch. Dist #132 v Ill. Workers’ Comp. Comm, Jonathan Jordan[ironic this guy was named Jordan] was a science teacher at Calumet Middle School. Teachers at that that school were expected to attend and participate in afterschool activities which involved student participation. Jordan’s principal told him about an afterschool basketball program that the school ran in order to reward students who were performing well and staying out of trouble. Students were allowed to play in games against the teachers. Although Jordan thought the basketball games were a great idea he was reluctant to play for fear of injury. Additionally, Jordan was not a basketball player.

The principal first told Jordan about the basketball games a few weeks before Jordan agreed to play. Jordan did not agree to play and did not give any commitment to playing in the future. The principal asked Jordan again. Jordan was was again non-committal suggesting “….maybe another time.” Jordan was hoping the principal would take a hint and stop asking. No such luck. The principal asked Jordan a third time to play and Jordan agreed. You can probably guess where this is going…..

Before getting to the game though, a couple of important facts. At the time the principal was after Jordan to play, Jordan had not yet received a contract to teach the following year. He also had not received his annual review. Jordan was concerned his repeated refusals to play might hurt his review or impact the decision to renew his contract. Although he was not ordered to play, Jordan did feel some pressure to participate in the games.

While playing, Jordan attempted a jump shot but fell awkwardly onto his left arm. He suffered a serious fracture which required internal fixation surgery. He then filed his Workers’ Compensation case.

At trial, the school district asserted that Jordan was involved in a “voluntary recreation activity” – and, thereby precluded from making a Workers Compensation recovery. The arbitrator, to her credit, didn’t buy that and found for Jordan. The School District appealed the arbitrator’s decision to the Commission but were shot down. The School District then took the case to the Circuit Court of Cook County. The court determined Jordan was involved in a “voluntary recreation program” and barred from recovery.

Jordan’s lawyer, a good guy and good lawyer by the name of Evan Hughes[in the interest of full disclosure Evan is a friend, and former suitemate of mine] wasn’t having it. He appealed the Court’s decision to the First District Appellate Court. Evan’s brief must have been very persuasive. Because the Appellate Court swatted the School District’s arguments away just like Dikembe Mutombo swatted away all those shots in the NBA. The Appellate Court emphasized that Jordan was not a basketball player and had repeatedly declined invitations to play. The Court also wisely noted that Jordan was justified to feel some pressure as his contract had not yet been renewed, nor had had annual review been completed. The Appellate Court concluded that Jordan did not participate in the game for his own enjoyment – and was thus not involved in a “voluntary recreational program”. Well done Evan!

Again, appropriate of nothing, I have some video of a guy who, unlike Jordan, did think he could play. Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Along Came Polly a marginal movie from a couple years ago. Hoffman however, was great – as he was in everything. Hearing him yell “White Chocolate” on a ill-conceived drive to the hoop justifies spending 30 seconds of your life watching this video.