Clodgo v. Rentavision, Inc.

701 A.2d 1044 (Vt. 1997)

Quick Summary

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Brian Clodgo (plaintiff), an employee at Industry Rentavision, Inc. (defendant), was injured during horseplay at work and sought workers’ compensation benefits. The dispute centered on whether such an injury was compensable under Vermont’s Workers’ Compensation Act.

The Supreme Court of Vermont concluded that Clodgo’s injury did not arise out of and in the course of his employment due to the substantial deviation from his work duties during horseplay, thus reversing the Commissioner’s award.

Facts of the Case

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Brian Clodgo (plaintiff) was an employee at Rentavision, Inc. (defendant), where he worked as a store manager in Brattleboro. On July 22, 1995, during a period with no customers, Clodgo engaged in horseplay by firing staples with a staple gun at a coworker, who retaliated by firing staples back, one of which struck Clodgo in the eye, resulting in injury.

The injury led Clodgo to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Industry Rentavision contested the award, arguing that Clodgo was engaged in noncompensable horseplay at the time of the injury. After a hearing, the Commissioner awarded Clodgo benefits, which led to Industry’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Vermont.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. Clodgo sustained an eye injury from horseplay at work and filed for workers’ compensation benefits.
  2. The Commissioner awarded Clodgo benefits including permanent partial disability and vocational rehabilitation benefits, medical expenses, and attorney’s fees and costs.
  3. Rentavision, Inc. appealed the Commissioner’s decision to the Supreme Court of Vermont.

I.R.A.C. Format


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Whether an injury sustained during horseplay at work is compensable under Vermont’s Workers’ Compensation Act.

Rule of Law

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Compensable injuries under Vermont’s Workers’ Compensation Act are those received by accident arising out of and in the course of employment. An injury arises out of employment if it occurs due to conditions and obligations of the employment. An accident is considered in the course of employment when it happens during the employment period, at a place where the employee should be while fulfilling work duties.

Reasoning and Analysis

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The Supreme Court of Vermont disagreed with the Commissioner’s decision, emphasizing that for an injury to be compensable, it must both arise out of and occur in the course of employment. The court determined that Clodgo’s participation in horseplay was a substantial deviation from his work duties and therefore did not occur in the course of employment.

The court highlighted that while some idle time horseplay could be expected, the activity in this case did not align with Rentavision’s interests nor did it commingle with Clodgo’s work duties.

In considering the ‘but for’ test, although the accident would not have occurred without Clodgo’s participation in horseplay, it also was not so closely related to his employment that it could be deemed to have arisen out of it. The court reversed the Commissioner’s award based on these principles.


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The Supreme Court reversed the Commissioner’s award, concluding that Clodgo’s injury from horseplay did not meet the criteria for compensation under Vermont’s Workers’ Compensation Act.

Dissenting Opinions

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Justice Morse dissented, arguing that the Commissioner’s application of the law to the facts was supported by reasonable evidence and should not be second-guessed. Morse emphasized that since horseplay was a tacit part of employment and occurred during a lull in work, it should not be considered a substantial deviation from employment duties.

Key Takeaways

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  1. An injury must arise out of and occur in the course of employment to be compensable under Vermont’s Workers’ Compensation Act.
  2. Participation in horseplay can be a substantial deviation from work duties and may not be compensable.
  3. The nature of employment and whether horseplay is an accepted part of it can influence whether injuries during such activities are compensable.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What factors must be considered to determine if an injury is compensable under workers' compensation laws?

To ascertain an injury’s compensability, the primary factors include whether the injury ‘arose out of’ and ‘in the course of’ the employee’s job duties. The former requires a causal connection between the employment conditions and the injury; whereas the latter relates to the time, place, and circumstances under which the injury occurs during employment.

  • For example: A delivery driver injured in a traffic accident while carrying out a scheduled delivery may be compensated because the accident arises directly from job duties performed during work hours.

How does deviation from work activities impact the compensability of injuries in workers’ compensation cases?

When an employee deviates significantly from assigned job tasks or engages in non-work-related activities leading to injury, that incident may fall outside ‘in the course of employment’, often rendering it non-compensable. However, minor deviations might not preclude compensability.

  • For example: If an employee is injured while running a personal errand during work hours without any work-related purpose, the injury may not be considered as occurring ‘in the course of’ employment.

Under what circumstances can workplace horseplay result in compensable injuries?

A compensable injury from horseplay can occur if such behavior is implicitly tolerated by employers and is incidental to the employment. This can be determined by frequency and acceptance of such practices within the work environment. If the playful conduct is regular and not expressly forbidden, resulting injuries could still potentially be viewed as arising ‘in the course’ of one’s employment.

  • For example: An employee who sustains an injury during an impromptu game of catch with a foam ball—which has become customary during office breaks—may receive compensation as it may not represent a substantial deviation from workplace norms or duties.


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