The justices reversed the Court of Appeals and the state workers’ comp panel in its Wednesday decision.
During the company-sponsored kickball game in 2007, Stephen Whigham jumped and landed awkwardly on his right leg, shattering his tibia and fibula.
“He was taken away in an ambulance and eventually underwent two surgeries. His doctor later informed him he would need a knee replacement in the near future,” according to Wednesday’s decision.
Whigham was the Director of Creative Solutions at Jackson Dawson Communications in Greenville, described in court records as a marketing, advertising, and public relations company.
During a meeting with other company leaders, Whigham came up with the idea of having a company kickball game as a team-building activity, and his superior at the company approved it. Supplies cost the company $440.
The event was called “Ballad Ball” and “paid tribute to the rock ballads of the 80s,” according to court records.
In its decision Wednesday, the Supreme Court focused on whether Whigham’s employer expected him to attend the game.
When asked if he would have considered it irresponsible of him not to show up, his boss replied: “I don’t know. I would have thought—he wouldn’t do that. I’ll just say that. He wouldn’t do that. . . . It would have been just unexpected, unbelievable.”
The court ruled that Whigham is entitled to compensation as a matter of law.
On Wednesday, the decision read, “undisputed facts indicate Whigham’s injury arose out of and in the course of his employment.”
Justice John Kittredge dissented, citing part of a transcript that showed employees received no ultimatum to attend. He said he is “concerned with an analytical framework in the workers’ compensation recreational or social activity arena that favors supervisors over other employees.”