Volunteer’s acceptance of workers compensation after horse incident doesn’t block suit
In Indiana, an unpaid volunteer’s acceptance of medical payments under an
| Case name: Einhorn v. Johnson, No. 50A03-1303-CT-93 (Ind. Ct. App. 10/10/13). Ruling: The Indiana Court of Appeals held that the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation did not bar a volunteer’s suit against a university.
What it means: In Indiana, an unpaid volunteer’s acceptance of medical payments under an organization’s workers’ compensation carrier does not change his status from volunteer to employee and make him bound by the exclusive remedy provision.
Summary: An unpaid volunteer was trampled by a loose horse during a sponsored horse fair. After the accident, one of the fair’s sponsors informed the volunteer that he was eligible for medical benefits under its workers’ compensation policy. He received benefits even though he had not applied for them. The volunteer sued the sponsor, the fair association, and the horse’s owners for his injuries. The Indiana Court of Appeals held that the volunteer’s suit against the sponsor was not barred by the exclusive remedy provision.
The sponsor argued that the volunteer’s acceptance of workers’ compensation benefits triggered the exclusive remedy provision. The court disagreed, pointing out that the volunteer was unpaid. There was no allegation that he was under a contract of hire with the sponsor. Also, he did not apply for medical benefits or agree to be bound by the exclusivity provision by accepting the benefits. The court concluded that the volunteer’s acceptance of medical payments did not change his status from volunteer to employee.
Ultimately, the court found that the sponsor and fair association were not liable for the volunteer’s injury because his injuries resulted from inherent risks of equine activities. The horse’s behavior was an unpredictable reaction to its surroundings, and horses can behave in ways that result in injuries to persons around them.
The horse’s owners were not liable for the volunteer’s injuries because they did not have reason to know that the horse had any dangerous propensities prior to the accident.