At the beginning of the month, we circulated the video clip above from the movie the Santa Clause, in which Santa falls off a roof and appears to sustain injuries. We posed the question: does Santa have a compensable workers’ compensation claim in Ohio? We received several interesting responses, which reflect the difficulty in analyzing what appears to be a simple claim.
The starting point in the analysis is R.C. 4123.01, which sets forth the definitions relevant to workers’ compensation claims, such as who is covered under the law and what constitutes a compensable injury. The basic purpose of the law is to compensate workers for injuries and occupational diseases which occur in employment. Consistent with the “grand bargain” between labor and management, the system compensates injured workers for lost earnings while they recuperate from injuries.
Understanding these basics, let’s analyze the Santa Clause clip. The first question is whether Santa is covered by the law as an employee, which requires an examination of Santa’s position as the annual deliverer of Christmas joy. Presumably, Santa is a sole proprietor/independent contractor and his own employee, and in the general sense may be covered by the law. However, one must consider whether Santa delivers presents as a voluntary act or in keeping with employment. Employment connotes remuneration for services rendered. Does Santa receive compensation for delivering gifts? If you consider milk and cookies compensation, then yes. However, how would Santa be compensated if he had a period of disability? With milk and cookies? More than likely, Santa is not in employment by virtue of the simple fact that all his work is performed gratis. Additionally, it could be argued that Santa was operating under a contract of employment, i.e. the “Santa clause.” However, the only evidence of a so-called contract is the business card Tim Allen finds in Santa’s hand which provides: “If something should happen to me, put on my suit, the Reindeer will know what to do.” This can hardly be construed as a contract of employment, as it is completely vague and illusory, and contains no terms and conditions of the contractual arrangement. The bottom line is, Santa’s fall did not occur in employment, and therefore, he has no claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
Assuming Santa was in employment under the law, then his injury is likely covered based on the facts in the clip. Clearly, Santa’s fall occurred in the course of and arising out of his employment because he fell during his work hours (i.e. on Christmas Eve while children are sleeping) while performing his work duties (i.e. delivering gifts) and his fall is causally related to his employment. Although entering homes through the chimney may not be the safest way to deliver presents, a claimant will not be denied a claim merely because he chose to perform his job in an unsafe manner. Moreover, standing on rooftops is certainly a work hazard during cold wintry weather conditions, and Santa would not have fallen had he not been startled by Tim Allen. A post-accident investigation may show that Santa was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or even suffered from a pre-existing condition raising questions about whether the fall was precluded by R.C. 4123.54 or was idiopathic. However, these would be facts which are not covered in the video clip.
We hope you enjoyed analyzing the Santa Clause. Have a joyful and safe holiday season!