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WILMINGTON, Del. (Legal Newsline) – A Delaware Superior Court judge has ruled that a paralegal injured while playing on his law firm’s softball team isn’t entitled to workers’ compensation.

In a March 29 ruling, Judge Ferris W. Wharton found that Delaware’s Industrial Accident Board (IAB) erred when it awarded Workers’ Compensation to William Weller. Wharton ruled that the June 2015 injury wasn’t compensable because the game was voluntary and failed to benefit the law firm’s business practices.

This is the second time the case has gone before the court, which reversed the IAB’s initial 2016 decision. The court remanded the case to the board “to apply the correct legal standard to its factual findings” in determining whether Wilmington-based Morris James LLP received a direct benefit from having a softball team, the opinion states. 

A hearing was held in May 2017, and the board issued a new decision in August 2017.

The board concluded that Weller ruptured his Achilles tendon during the course and scope of his work for Morris James LLP. The law firm appealed the decision.

IAB found Morris James benefited from increased productivity among staff because of the softball games, but the appeals court found that wasn’t enough. The court cited Delaware law, which states an employee may be eligible for compensation if “the employer derives substantial direct benefit from the activity beyond the intangible value of improvement in employee health and morale.” 

Direct benefits include “business advertising, monetary gain and publicity,” the opinion states.

“Morris James derives no business benefit by having Weller participate in softball,” Wharton said in his opinion. “Morris James does not advertise its legal services at games, its clientele does not attend or participate at games, and softball has no beneficial monetary impact on the firm.”

The case will not be remanded to the board for a third hearing.  

“After two full hearings, the court believes that the parties have had ample opportunities to develop the facts, and that those facts are simply inadequate to support a finding of compensability,” Warton said.

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