What Do You Think: Was Louisiana Renaissance Festival Jouster’s Fall from Horse Compensable?

20 May, 2024 Chris Parker

                               

Hammond, LA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Louisiana exempts from workers’ compensation coverage certain types of employees, including, in some instances, “performers.” The definition of performer, however, is not clearcut. 

A case involving a jousting competition at a renaissance fair highlights some of the ambiguity in the term and indicates some of the factors workers’ compensation judges and courts may consider in deciding whether an employee falls within the performer exemption.

The company in that case ran an annual renaissance festival in Hammond, Louisiana. It subcontracted its jousting demonstrations to another company, War Horse Productions, that hired the employee. War Horse paid him for the days the jousting demonstrations were held, and he also received tips from the audience. 

During a 2021 jousting demonstration, the employee was thrown off his horse and injured. He filed for workers’ compensation.

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The employee, who took the stage name of “Roland” McKeanne, stated that he was closer to a professional football player than a performer. He considered jousting a "full contact competition," not a performance. He testified that it was a demonstration of his skills on horseback and in armor, with "some dramatic elements to it.”

The jouster also acknowledged that the purpose of the jousting demonstrations was to entertain. But he pointed out that he also fed and cared for the horses during the festival and was, in some ways, more like a farm hand than a performer. 

The Louisiana Workers' Compensation Corporation dismissed the case on the basis that the employee was a type of performer who was exempt from workers’ compensation coverage. The employee appealed.

Louisiana’s Workers' Compensation Act provides exemptions from coverage for certain types of employees. La. R.S. 23:1035(B)(2), for example, exempts "musicians and performers who are rendering services pursuant to a performance contract.”

Could the jouster recover benefits for his injuries?
A. Yes. He was more akin to a football player or farmhand than a performer.
B. No. His job was to entertain festival attendees.

If you selected B, you agreed with the court in McKeane v.  LA Renfest,  No. 2023 CA 1003 (La. Ct. App. 05/09/24), which held that the jouster was a “performer.”

First, the court rejected the jouster’s argument that the statutory exemption applied only to “musicians.” The court stated that the statute was unambiguous; it applied to both musicians and performers rendering services under a performance contract.

Next, the court found that the jouster fit squarely within the second category of employee. He admitted, the court noted, that there was a “dramatic” element to what he did. He also stated that he participated in jousting demonstrations for the purpose of entertaining an audience, for which he received tips.

Because there was no genuine dispute that the jouster was performing under a performance contract, and thus exempt under the Workers’ Compensation Act, the court affirmed the dismissal of the case.


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