Court: Bar Brawl Injuries Still Deserve Disability Benefits

January 16, 2004 ( - Even though a Hawaii man's injuries requiring an artificial hip operation came about because of injuries suffered in a bar fight on a remote Pacific island, his employer is still liable for the employee's disability payments, a federal court ruled.

>The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the disability benefits for plaintiff Michael Ilaszczat, who was hurt because of a bar bet gone awry on Johnston Atoll, a US possession 700 miles west of Hawaii, Reuters reported. The atoll is used as a US chemical and nuclear arms dump.

>The San Francisco-based court backed earlier decisions by an administrative board and judge granting the payments to Ilaszczat, who required hip surgery after crashing to the floor of a social club on the atoll after he bet soldiers $100 that one of them could not high-kick over his head without touching him. Ilaszczat won the bet but got kicked to the floor in the melee.

>The appeals court agreed that the two-mile-long atoll is a “zone of special danger” because of its isolation and limited recreational opportunities. “We agree that, under these circumstances, horseplay of the type that occurred here is a foreseeable incident of one’s employment on the atoll,” wrote Circuit Judge Barry Silverman for the court.

Ilaszczat’s former employer, Kalama Services Inc., and CIGNA Property and Casualty Insurance Co. had appealed the benefit award.   Kalama had fired Ilaszczat, who had worked as a store manager, after Johnston Atoll’s US military commander barred him from returning because of the barroom incident.