Missing Word Leads to Reversal of Nebraska Workers’ Comp Ruling in Favor of Employee

By MARGERY A. BECK | July 14, 2015

The omission of one word in a workers’ compensation court ruling favoring a co-op employee hurt during a company party led the Nebraska Supreme Court to reverse the ruling on Friday.

The case stems from a 2010 cookout held by Aurora Cooperative, which owns grain elevators in southeast and south-central Nebraska, in Ong for its customers. A co-op employee, John Jacobitz, was injured in a fall from the back of a pickup during the cookout while helping move a grill used for the event.

The workers’ compensation court found that Jacobitz’s injury occurred in the course of employment because “the co-op received a substantial benefit from Jacobitz’s attendance.” But the Nebraska Supreme Court said Friday that the standard for whether an employee is entitled to benefits when injured at a social event tied to employment is “a substantial direct benefit,” not merely a “substantial benefit.”

Although the high court provided a Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary definition of the word, it did not define how “direct” fits into the analysis of Jacobitz’s case, leaving that to the workers’ compensation court to determine.

“Using ‘direct’ as a part of the analysis has importance and must be applied,” Justice Michael McCormack wrote for the court.

An attorney for the co-op, Patrick Guinan of Omaha, could not say when the case will be heard in workers’ compensation court again.

While Friday’s ruling favored the co-op, Guinan wasn’t prepared to declare victory.

“There’s a lot more ligation that has to happen,” he said.

Jacobitz’s attorney, Jacob Steinkemper of Omaha, declined to comment on Friday’s ruling, but did answer questions about his client’s medical condition in the aftermath of the 2010 fall.

“He’s completely and totally disabled,” Steinkemper said. “He’s getting Social Security disability, and that’s very minimal.”

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