A police sergeant in Appleton, Wisconsin won a four-year legal battle that began in 2008 when he tore his rotator cuff while doing pushups in his basement.
Mike Nofzinger’s legal battle began shortly after he attempted his 12th pushup on his carpeted basement floor. Nofzinger was preparing for a police fitness test that rewards officers who can complete the test with a lump-sum cash premium and retirement bonus. One of the tests in the fitness challenge required officers to complete a certain number of pushups.
Nofzinger filed for workers’ compensation after suffering the shoulder injury. The court initially ruled in Nofzinger’s favor, as they said the pushups where directly related to his employment, which made his participation “involuntary”. He was awarded $12,500 in workers’ compensation, but the city of Appleton appealed the ruling. Not only were they concerned about the large payout, but they feared the implications the ruling could have around the state.
“We think it’s a bad decision and it sets a precedent that is very far-reaching,” said Sandy Behnke, who works as Appleton’s human resources director. “If an employee runs to stay in shape and blows out a knee, it’s an open question whether they could file for worker’s comp.
The city of Appleton decided to hire outside legal counsel to fight the original ruling, which cost the taxpayers an additional $17,477, but the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case.
Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna said the ruling would have state-wide ramifications, and it might lead to the elimination of similar fitness tests because companies don’t want to be exposed to lawsuits.
“It could make it tougher for the city to offer a fitness incentive in our health plan — we may need a stricter definition for outside injuries,” Hanna said. “I’m worried it could be extrapolated to almost any physical exercise injury. Could you file a claim if you were injured skiing? Where does it stop?”
Nofzinger said he was pleased that the case didn’t drag on any longer, and he reiterated that the fitness test not only ensures that officers are in top shape, but it also saves the department money in lowered insurance costs.
“Chief Dave Gorski negotiated this fitness plan in the 1980s,” Nofzinger said. “He recognized the long-term impact with less health insurance cost and greater ability to perform the physical requirements of the job.”
Despite Nofzinger’s feeling towards the fitness test, Behnke hopes to modify the program during the next round of contract talks to lessen the city’s accountability if an accident occurs.
“Appleton officers take fitness very seriously and take care of themselves, so we want to incentivize that,” Behnke said. “I’ve asked the chiefs to look at how we can change the contract to reduce the liability.”
Nofzinger retired in 2011 after serving 29 years on the force. He said he doesn’t believe that the ruling will result in a spike in similar cases, and he said his case was a victory for organized labor and emergency officials.
Related source: National Association of Injured and Disabled Workers