The recent workers’ compensation claim case of City of Brighton v. Rodriguez illustrates how unexplained work injuries could still be compensable, so long as the injury arises out of employment.
Our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys know the key point in these situations is that the “arising out of” requirement. This refers to the causal origin of the injury, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the injury was caused by employment. This requirement is met when, by reason of the employment, the worker is present at a location where he is injured either by a third person, an outside force or conditions of the location.
This is an important point because not all compensable work injuries stem from actual work duties.
The Rodriguez case, reviewed by the Colorado Supreme Court, started in early 2009. The plaintiff here worked as a special events coordinator for a city government. Her office was located in the basement of the city hall building. One day, she was making her way to her office when she suffered a fall. She had stopped at the top of a flight of concrete stairs to greet a few co-workers, who were standing toward the bottom of the stairs, which were unobstructed and dry. After a brief talk, she began to walk down the stairs, at which point, she suddenly fell forward. She suffered a head injury, lost consciousness and doesn’t remember exactly how she fell – whether she slipped, tripped, lost her balance or something else entirely. She had not been suffering from a headache or vision problems or dizziness or neck pain just prior to the incident.
Subsequent to her fall, she was taken to the emergency room. There, brain scans revealed she had several unruptured aneurysms in her brain. Several weeks later, she underwent surgery for this condition.
As a result of the fall, however, she suffered back, head and neck injuries.
But when she sought workers’ compensation for these injuries, her employer sought to deny them because, the city argued, her fall did not arise out of her employment. The city argued that either her fall was a result of her brain aneurysms or that the cause was unexplained.
An administrative law judge held a hearing on the matter. The two witnesses to the fall said they could offer no real explanation for why the plaintiff fell. They said only that she took several steps and suddenly pitched forward.
An independent medical examiner reported that the most likely cause of the fall was a fainting or dizziness episode, prompted by the aneurysms, though his conclusion couldn’t be stated with any reasonable degree of medical probability.
Two other doctors testified on the plaintiff’s behalf, saying that the aneurysms were likely not the cause of her fall, as she had been asymptomatic prior to that incident.
The administrative law judge determined that her fall was not precipitated by her aneurysms, but neither was it caused by a trip or slip or any dangerous condition of the stairs. He concluded that the fall as unexplained, and as such, her injuries were not compensable.
This finding was affirmed by the state’s industrial claims appeals office.
The court of appeals set aside those findings, noting that the city had at first conceded liability, and then later contested the claim on the basis of the “arising out of” requirement. The appellate court ruled that for this reason, it was the city that was required to prove that the injury didn’t rise out of employment. With the burden of proof shifted, the appellate court determined, the city failed. The court also held that the uncertainty regarding the cause of a given injury doesn’t strip a person’s right to collect worker’s compensation if the potential causes satisfy the conditions of recovery.
However, the state supreme court reversed this finding, ruling that the appellate court erred in concluding that the injury arose out of employment. Unexplained falls, the court held, are compensable if the fall would not have occurred “but-for” the the conditions and obligations of employment that put the employee in the position where he or she was injured. That was true in this case, and therefore, the worker was awarded benefits.
If you have been injured on the job in Atlanta, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., to speak with an experienced attorney. For a free consultation call 1-404-303-7770 today.
City of Brighton v. Rodriguez, Feb. 3, 2014, Colorado Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Handling Bad Faith Workers’ Compensation Disputes in Atlanta, Feb. 3, 2014, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog