N.C. Court: City Doesn’t Owe Worker Hurt While Smoking on Break

May 17, 2018

The North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled that a city employee is not owed workers’ compensation for an injury suffered while smoking during a lunch break.

The appeals court judges said Tuesday that Larry Brooks’ fall in 2015 was due to underlying conditions combined with his decision to smoke, not his employer’s actions. Brooks supervised a utility crew that performed sewer and water line repairs in the city of Winston-Salem.The work crew were allowed two 15 minute breaks and a 30 minute lunch. On the date of injury, Brooks ate his lunch within his work truck and then went in to a gas station to purchase cigarettes. According to court records, he purchased an e-cigarette for the first time. He returned to the work truck and began smoking the e-cigarette. He then experienced a coughing fit and passed out after getting out the vehicle for some fresh air.He sustained injuries to his right hip, back and head.He was diagnosed with LS-4 transverse process fractures and could not return to his regular work duties.

In 2016, a workers’ comp deputy commissioner determined Brooks injuries did not arise out of and in the course of employment.

In July 2017, a full commission affirmed the decision. Brooks appealed.

A doctor said high blood pressure, high blood sugar and the coughing contributed to the fall that injured his back.

Court documents also note the city’s policy against smoking tobacco on city vehicles.

The appeals court affirmed the prior ruling which found that his injury wasn’t compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

decisions and stated, “While admittedly Brooks would not have been at the gas station but for his job, his fall was not traceable to the conditions of his employment. Rather, Brooks’ own actions and his idiopathic condition were the sole forces causing his injuries.”

The case is Brooks v. City of Winston-Salem (17-1208).

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