Labor & Employment

Was motorcycle trip a rainmaking event? Appeals court says no, denies workers comp to injured lawyer

A Wisconsin lawyer who claimed his trip to a Harley-Davidson rally was a rainmaking event can’t collect workers comp for the motorcycle accident en route that paralyzed him, a state appeals court says.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals found that Jacob Westerhof’s trip was personal in nature and he wasn’t entitled to workers compensation, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which linked to the May 22 opinion.

Westerhof was injured in September 2006 while traveling to the rally with a real-estate appraiser who was one of his poker buddies, according to the Wisconsin appellate opinion. Westerhof testified he joined the poker group of small-business owners to market himself. Though Westerhof didn’t claim the time spent playing poker for compensation purposes, his law firm did reimburse him for the snacks and drinks he supplied, and for trips to Las Vegas with the poker players.

Westerhof wasn’t a biker and he began the trip following his motorcycle-riding poker friend in the friend’s truck. Westerhof asked if he could ride the friend’s restored motorcycle, and the friend acquiesced. Westerhof was injured when he hit some gravel and lost control of the motorcycle, according to the Journal Sentinel account.

The appeals court upheld findings by the state’s Labor and Industry Review Commission that the motorcycle trip was “simply a social outing among friends who occasionally did business together.”

Westerhof’s law firm, DeWitt Ross and Stephens, had filed a brief saying that Westerhof spent a lot of time with three men from the poker group. “Between March of 2005 and September of 2006,” the brief said, “none of those individuals ever paid a single dollar in legal fees to DeWitt Ross & Stevens or referred a paying client to the firm.”

Franken did file some court documents on behalf of the biker friend in a small-claims dispute, but he didn’t bill for the services.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Westerhof earns about $10,000 a month in long-term disability pay and Social Security disability income, and he is still covered by his law firm’s health policy.

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