A former Pine Bluff employee is entitled to have his workers' compensation claims heard again, regardless of whether he provoked the co-worker who injured him with a baseball bat, the Arkansas Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.
Three appeals court judges reversed and remanded the case back to the state Workers' Compensation Commission, which had previously determined that the injured ex-employee was an "active participant" in the altercation in May 2015.
The attacker, Bruce Spicer, pleaded guilty to battery earlier this month and received probation.
Spicer told his boss at the city's Housing Authority that a co-worker, Leroy Dorn Jr., had threatened him with a knife on May 4, 2015, and accused him of stealing personal items and cleaning supplies, according to court filings.
Those records say bosses scheduled a meeting over the dispute the next day, and Spicer came armed with a wooden bat.
A Pine Bluff police officer testified that Spicer would not stop hitting Dorn in the parking lot outside their work until the officer threatened to use a stun gun on him.
Dorn's injuries included a missing tooth, broken bones on his face and a bruised elbow.
Both Dorn and Spicer were fired by the Housing Authority.
An administrative law judge awarded Dorn temporary workers' compensation benefits that July.
Both parties appealed -- with Dorn seeking further benefits -- but the Workers' Compensation Commission reversed the judge's decision and said Dorn's injuries were not covered by the law because they resulted from "personal animus for Spicer."
An opinion by Court of Appeals Chief Justice Rita Gruber, released Thursday, said it should not matter whether Dorn had issues with Spicer.
"Although his employer knew of the trouble between Dorn and Spicer and knew that they would arrive by 8:00 a.m. in the morning, no member of the supervisory staff had arrived for work when the attack took place," Gruber wrote.
Gruber, joined by two other judges, did not rule on Dorn's contention that he deserved more benefits, leaving that decision to the Workers' Compensation Commission.
Metro on 05/18/2017