N.C. Court: No Workers’ Comp for Employee Injured While Smoking on Break

By | May 18, 2018

A North Carolina city employee isn’t owed workers’ compensation for an injury he suffered while smoking during a lunch break, the state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals said Larry Brooks’ fall in 2015 was due to underlying medical conditions combined with his decision to smoke, not actions by his employer.

Brooks, who supervised a utility crew for Winston-Salem, was taking his lunch break at a gas station when he smoked an electronic cigarette in a city truck and had a coughing fit, according to court documents. Brooks, who said he wasn’t accustomed to e-cigarettes, stepped out of the truck while coughing uncontrollably and hit the curb after passing out.

Brooks told medical personnel that day he was diabetic but had been off his medicine.

A doctor later said high blood pressure, high blood sugar and the coughing fit contributed to the fall that injured his back. Brooks was put on restrictions that made him unable to return to his position.

Court documents also note the city has a policy against its workers smoking inside its vehicles.

Brooks was previously denied compensation by the North Carolina Industrial Commission. But he said the state board made a mistake in rejecting him, arguing that his circumstances were similar to other cases of workers crashing vehicles when they blacked out at work.

However, the appeals court ruled that the fall didn’t arise from work duties, so he wasn’t entitled to compensation from the city.

“While admittedly Brooks would not have been at the gas station but for his job, his fall was not traceable to the conditions of his employment,” the court opinion states, citing instead a combination of Brooks’ actions and medical conditions.

“He chose to purchase an e-cigarette, return to the truck, smoke the cigarette, and ultimately step outside of the truck to get fresh air,” the ruling says. “None of these actions were required by his employment or served to benefit his employer.”

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