McNamara v. Town of Hamden

In McNamara v. Town of Hamden, 176 Conn. 547, 398 A.2d 1161 (Conn. 1978), the Supreme Court of Connecticut considered whether an injury sustained while an employee was playing ping-pong on his employer's premises arose out of and in the course of his employment. McNamara, 176 Conn, 547, 398 A.2d 1161 at 1163. The claimant's work day was from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Id. Approximately eighty of the claimant's co-employees were in the habit of assembling at their employer's garage before work about 7:30 a.m. every day. Id. Several months prior to the date of injury, this group of employees received permission from the employer to purchase a ping-pong table and accessories at the employees' own expense, and to install the table in the garage. Id. The employer limited the ping pong playing time to 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., from noon to 12:30 p.m. (lunch time), and from 4 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. Id. At 7:55 a.m. on the date he was injured, the claimant tripped and fell while playing ping-pong; he claimed workmen's compensation benefits for lost time from work and medical expenses due to his fall. Id. The Connecticut workers' compensation commissioner concluded that the injury was not compensable because 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 ping-pong was not an incident of the plaintiff's employment or closely enough connected with it to require compensation. Id. The claimant appealed to the Court of Common Pleas, which dismissed the appeal on the ground that the claimant had not met his burden of proving that the injury "arose out of the employment and occurred in the course of the employment." Id. The Supreme Court of Connecticut, having determined that the trial court and commissioner implicitly treated the injury as one "arising out of" the employment, focused its inquiry on the "in the course of" employment aspect of the case. McNamara, 176 Conn. 547, 398 A.2d 1161 at 1164. The court held that in order to come within the course of employment requirement, "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." Id. As to part (a) of the test, the McNamara court determined that plaintiff was "within the period of employment," even though he was injured five minutes prior to the commencement of the official work day. Id. The court opined, "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." Id. With respect to part (b) of the test, the court concluded that plaintiff was "at a place he could reasonably be," as plaintiff was on the premises just before the start of the work day. With regard to whether plaintiff's activity was "incidental to his employment," the McNamara court stated that "the meaning of the term 'incidental' need not be defined as compulsion by or benefit to the employer in all cases." McNamara, 176 Conn. 547, 398 A.2d 1161 at 1165. The court, foreseeing difficulty with a uniform application of an employer benefit rule, asked rhetorically, "How can one realistically evaluate the actual benefit an employer receives from permitting on-premises recreational activities?" Id. The court continued: "The obvious difficulty in drawing such distinctions or weighing such intangibles is sufficient reason to adopt a new rule which will avoid arbitrary and unjust results." Id. The Court said that it should not be necessary "to bolster the case by adding proof of employer sponsorship of the activity or employer benefit therefrom. It is generally held sufficient that the activity is an accepted and normal one, since it thereby becomes a regular incident and condition of the employment." McNamara, 176 Conn. 547, 398 A.2d 1161 at 1165-66. Given that the employer sanctioned the ping-pong games by regulating permitted playing times, by allowing equipment on the premises, and by setting aside actual work hours in the afternoon for the activity, and that the games occurred regularly on the employer's premises, the court held that sufficient facts existed upon which to conclude that the games were an incident of the employment. McNamara, 176 Conn. 547, 398 A.2d 1161 at 1166. The court concluded by outlining a rule for determining whether an activity is incidental to employment: "If the activity is regularly engaged in on the employer's premises within the period of the employment, with the employer's approval or acquiescence, an injury occurring under those conditions shall be found to be compensable." Id.