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Minion v. Felton Mills & Atlas Van Lines, IAB Hearing No. 1421868 & 1418086 (August 4, 2015)

The Board holds that a claimant injured during an assault by a co-worker at a job site was within the course and scope of his employment.

The claimant, Phil A. Minion, filed a Petition to Determine Compensation Due, alleging that he was assaulted by a co-worker, Mr. Alan Foote, in the course and scope of his employment. The employer argued that the assault was due to personal animus and was not reasonably related to his employment.

At the hearing, the claimant testified that he worked for a professional moving company. He had a working relationship with Mr. Foote, who sometimes gave him rides to work. He denied any personal issues or arguments prior to the work incident. On June 30, 2014, he was dismantling a table when Mr. Foote grabbed it and carried it outside before he was done. One of the pieces broke. If a broken item is not fixable, the employee may be personally responsible for the cost. The claimant testified that Mr. Foote asked him why he hadn’t been told the piece was not completely dismantled and proceeded to instigate a fight, cutting the claimant with a box cutter on his low back, right arm and chest. Felton Mills, the employer/owner, testified on behalf of his business. He had known Mr. Foote since childhood, but denied knowing that he had been incarcerated until Mr. Foote told him prior to being hired. Mr. Foote’s explanation for the assault was that the claimant owed him money for drugs. Mr. Mills had observed the claimant’s drug use personally before. The claimant denied purchasing drugs from or doing drugs with Mr. Foote.

The Board explained that the issue in this case was whether the assault and stabbing was a deviation sufficient to take the injuries out of the scope of employment. Delaware has recognized that injuries caused by an assault at work are not compensable if they are the result of an attack directed against the employee that are personal in nature, but are compensable if the attack is directed because of the employment. The Board concluded that the claimant was a credible witness and that it appeared the assault was motivated by employment related factors. The core dispute was over the incomplete dismantling of the furniture. The Board noted that the employer’s testimony that the dispute was over a drug deal was inherently unreliable, as it was hearsay uncorroborated by other evidence. Further, the Board found it significant that Mr. Mills denied knowledge of Mr. Foote’s incarceration, despite knowing him since childhood, which it found not credible.

Ultimately, there was a lack of credible evidence for a personally motivated reason for the assault, and, based largely on its credibility determinations, the Board concluded that, more likely than not, the assault was related to the claimant’s employment. The claimant’s petition was granted.

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