In order to be successful in the submission of an Atlanta workers’ compensation claim, it’s critical for the legal team representing you to prove that the injury or illness arose out of the course of your employment.
In some cases, this is pretty simple. For example, a full-time construction worker is struck by a falling beam at a work site while he’s on the clock.
But other scenarios can be less black-and-white.
Two recent examples were offered up to the state supreme courts in Nebraska and Minnesota.
The case of Jacobitz v. Aurora Coop. involves a worker who sustained a traumatic brain injury after he fell from a flatbed truck that was driven by his supervisor jut after a customer appreciation dinner. The two men had helped to host the supper and were helping to clean the site and put away a large grill used to cook the meal.
The trial court bifurcated the trial because the worker contended he had not yet reached his maximum medical improvement, but it could go on to decide the issue of whether he had been hurt within the scope of his employment. The only issue to be decided in that trial was one of liability. The issue of benefits would be set aside for a later trial, depending on the outcome of the first case.
The key point of fact that was being disputed was whether the worker had been told he had to come and help host the event or whether he was simply invited to do so if he wished. This seemingly benign issue was the one upon which the entire case rested. If he was ordered to do so by his boss, his injury could be considered as having occurred in the scope of his employment. If not, he might not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
In deciding the case in favor of the worker, the court determined that the worker believed he had to attend or, at the very least, “it would be in his best interests to attend.” This was supported by the fact that the worker drove 30 miles to clean up and return the the event after a typical work day – despite the fact that he did not earn high wages and he had a family at home. The court rejected the company’s assertion that it was not a sponsor of the event. The company had received substantial benefit not only from the involvement in the event, but also from the workers’ assistance during the event.
The supreme court later rejected an appeal from the employer on the grounds that the order was not final, as benefits had yet to be determined in the second trial. That case is expected to be heard sometime this year.
In the second case, Dykhoff v. Xcel Energy, the state high court ended up rejecting the worker’s assertion that her injury was caused on the job.
In that situation, the worker was a realtor who suffered a dislocated knee cap while attending a training session at the office of her employer. Although she typically dressed in casual wear to work, her employer had instructed her to “dress up” for the training session. She did so, and her attire included two-inch heels. Although her employer hadn’t told her expressly to wear heels, she believed this was implied.
As one of the first to arrive at the morning conference, she set down her bag and coat, turned the light on in the conference room and then returned to pick up her belongings. As she did so, she fell.
She would later describe the floor as a slippery, hard and highly-polished surface. The worker said she didn’t trip and it wasn’t that her leg gave out. She claimed she fell as a result of slipping on the floor. Her bosses, who found her still lying on the floor unable to move several minutes later, found the surface of the floor to be dry and not wet.
In contesting that the floor was unsafe, the company supplied documentation revealing that the floor surface traction was in compliance with specifications issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Initially, a compensation judge denied her claim. That finding was later reversed by the workers’ compensation board. However, that finding was also reversed, ultimately resulting in a denial of the workers’ claim on the grounds that her injury was not the result of an increased risk caused by the employer and therefore was not compensable.
This case was interesting because typically, negligence is not an issue in workers’ compensation cases. All that one must show is that the injury arose out of and in the course of employment. However, the court found that the worker failed to meet the burden of proof, as prior case law has determined that the “arising out of” portion of the statute “connotes a causal connection.”
While there was no dispute as to the fact that the injury was caused “in the course of” her employment, the issue was whether there was a causal connection. The court held that a causal connection is established if the work exposes the worker to a hazard that originates on the premises as part of the working environment or exposes the worker to an environment where he or she is subjected to a different and greater risk than if he or she had been going about ordinary personal affairs.
That was not determined to be the case here.
Contact Atlanta workers’ compensation attorney J. Franklin Burns, P.C. For a free consultation call 1-404-303-7770 today.
Dykhoff v. Xcel Energy, Dec. 26, 2013, Minnesota Supreme Court
Jacobitz v. Aurora Coop., Dec. 27, 2013, Nebraska Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Traveling Employees And Georgia Workers’ Compensation, Dec. 19, 2013, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog