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Whigham v. Jackson Dawson Communs.

Supreme Court of South Carolina

August 27, 2014

Stephen C. Whigham, Petitioner,
v.
Jackson Dawson Communications, Employer, and the Hartford, Carrier, Respondents Appellate Case No. 2012-212258.

Heard May 8, 2014

Appeal from the Workers' Compensation Commission.

Douglas A. Churdar, of Greenville, for Petitioner.

Benjamin M. Renfrow and Wesley J. Shull, both of Willson Jones Carter & Baxley, P.A., of Greenville, for Respondents.

JUSTICE HEARN. TOAL, C.J., and Acting Justice James E. Moore, concur. KITTREDGE, J., dissenting in a separate opinion in which PLEICONES, J., concurs.

Page 421

[410 S.C. 133] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

HEARN, JUSTICE:

Stephen Whigham was injured playing kickball during an event he organized for his employer, Jackson Dawson Communications and filed a claim for workers' compensation. The single commissioner denied the claim because she found the injury did not arise out of or in the course of his employment, and that decision was affirmed by the full commission and the court of appeals. We reverse and remand, holding that under the facts of this case, Whigham is entitled to workers' compensation because he was impliedly required to attend the kickball game he organized, and therefore, his injury arose out of and in the course of his employment.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Whigham was employed as the Director of Creative Solutions at Jackson Dawson, a marketing, advertising, and public relations company. As part of his employment, Whigham attended bi-monthly meetings wherein the managers discussed, among other things, the importance of team-building events. In accordance with the company's desire to cultivate an enjoyable work atmosphere, Whigham conceived the idea of having a company kickball game. He proposed the idea to his superior, Kevin Johnson, who instructed him to move forward with it. Whigham proceeded to contact a rental facility and [410 S.C. 134] designed T-shirts for the event. Johnson authorized Whigham to spend $440 of company funds for the rental, the T-shirts, drinks, and snacks.

Once the event was organized, Whigham used the company intranet to promote it and encourage attendance. The game took place on a Friday afternoon at 3:00 with roughly half of Jackson Dawson's employees in attendance. Whigham was injured on the last play when he jumped to avoid being thrown out by the opposing team. He 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.

The single commissioner denied compensability on the grounds that the injury did not arise out of or in the course of Whigham's employment. Specifically, she found he was neither required to attend the event, nor was there any benefit beyond general employee morale to the company. The full commission affirmed, essentially adopting the single commissioner's order. The court of appeals affirmed in a memorandum opinion, citing cases involving the substantial evidence standard. Whigham v. Jackson Dawson Commc'ns, Op. No. 2012-UP-223 (S.C. Ct. App. filed April 11, 2012). This Court granted certiorari to review the opinion of the court of appeals.

ISSUE PRESENTED

Did the court of appeals err in affirming the denial of workers' compensation because the injury did not arise out of and in the course of Whigham's employment?

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act, this Court can reverse or modify a decision of the full commission only if the claimant's substantial rights have been prejudiced because the decision is ...


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