Woman broke wrist in fall at work, yet top state court ruled against her
Volunteer firefighters get state help
Good news from West Virgina, according to a June 20 piece from Insurance Journal, “West Virginia’s volunteer fire departments looking to offset anticipated increases in their workers’ compensation insurance premiums can turn to a website launched by the state auditor’s office.
“Auditor Glen Gainer’s office was tasked by the Legislature with developing a program to provide reimbursements to fire departments.
“Gainer said reimbursement forms are now available on his office’s website.”
We’ve been following the plight of the Mountain State’s numerous VFD outfits for some time, most recently in this installment.
Illinois AG acknowledges ‘reform’ fell short
Another story we’ve been following is the battle for workers’ comp reform in Illinois, most recently in the same post linked above. A June 19 editorial in the Belleville News-Democrat takes Attorney General Lisa Madigan to task for not publicizing the issue enough, even though she concedes the new legislation is not real reform:
A recently enacted reform bill isn’t going to change much because it doesn’t address the crux of the problem — causation. Incredibly, in Illinois, an injury covered by workers’ comp doesn’t have to be caused by work, it just has to possibly be a contributing factor.
“To say we’ve reformed the workers’ comp system is a gross overstatement,” Madigan told us.
So why didn’t Madigan publicly advocate for meaningful reform while the bill was in the spring legislative session?
Madigan frequently uses the bully pulpit to advocate for legislative and other changes, everything from cracking down on meth dealers to opening up public records.
This spring she championed bills to strengthen the prevailing wage, protect consumers when a car dealership shuts down, crack down on meth repeat offenders and others. She vigorously opposed a bill to allow automatic rate hikes for public utilities. She called for Apple and Google to address privacy issues and Pabst Brewery to lessen the alcohol level in its new drink Blast.
But not even one press release on workers’ comp reform, which she said is a top issue for Illinois.
More coverage and response can be found at the following links:
Alabama Supreme Court rules against injured grandmother
This next case, from Alabama, is one we find particularly disturbing due to the state Supreme Court’s ruling against an injured worker. However, it does show the importance of retaining a trained, experienced workers’ compensation attorney because the various laws and statutes can be so complicated and open to interpretation, especially if an injured worker makes statements that later come back to hurt the case.
Workers give up legal rights in return for coverage
To be sure, we don’t think any party involved should get away with gaming the system, whether it be employee, employer, medical provider, insurance carrier–or the authorities in charge of the system. That being said, we do believe in the fundamental precept of workers’ compensation, that workers injured on the job sign away their right to sue the employer in exchange for workers’ comp protection for injuries sustained while working and in the course of employment.
One attorney’s summation
From an Alabama attorney’s blog, a summary of the case, posted in April:
Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court issued it’s opinion in the case of Ex Parte Patsy Patton d/b/a Korner Store (In re Lana T. Brown v. Patsy Patton d/b/a Korner Store). Ms. Brown worked as a cashier at the Korner Store, which is a gas station/convenience store. She walked to the deli counter to refill her coffee cup, and when she began walking back to the front of the store, she “inexplicably fell, breaking her wrist”. She filed a workers’ compensation claim, which was denied by Korner Store, contending that the fall was attributable to an idiopathic characteristic or was due to some unexplained, but not work related, cause.
The cause of injury: work as assigned? or work on the job?
In a bit of murky reporting, this Alabama TV station’s report does get one thing right: “The injured worker could not prove it happened because of the work she was assigned to do, and in turn the supreme court said the company would not be held responsible.”
Introduction of ‘idiopathic factors’
Here’s the crucial passage from the ruling itself:
“The principal ‘fault line’ that has been revealed by the application of the ‘arising out of’ requirement by Alabama courts is the distinction between accidents that are at least partially attributable to an affirmative employment contribution and those that are attributable solely to what are called ‘idiopathic’ factors, a term that ‘refers to an employee’s preexisting physical weakness or disease’ that is “ ‘peculiar to the individual” ’ employee. Ex parte Patterson, 561 So.2d 236, 238 n. 2 (Ala.1990). Thus, a fall may, under the appropriate circumstances, properly be deemed an accident arising out of employment․ In contrast, a fall may, under the appropriate circumstances tending to show an idiopathic factor, not be an accident arising out of employment․
‘She did not know why she fell’
According to this version of the ruling, the injured worker’s statements may have weighed against her:
The employee had noticed no hazardous material on the floor of the store where she fell at the time of her fall, nor is any such material apparent from the videographic recording of the fall, and she testified that she did not know why she fell. The employee’s injured wrist was later placed in a cast, and she returned to work the following day; she continued to work normally for the employer until leaving her employment in January 2005 to care for her grandchild, and the employee admitted that she did not believe that she was disabled from working should she choose to do so.
Lesson is, look for a really good attorney
What’s particularly galling is that this injured woman not only declined the scam-opportunity to “milk” the situation for extended time off and attendant benefits but also that she hopped right back to work the next day, on duty, ready to attend more customers of the store. Furthermore, she didn’t claim a long-term, debilitating injury. And it sounds as though she would’ve stayed at the store but her grandchild needed her more.
True, it’s not fair–at least reading from the various sources: From what I’ve read, Lana Brown should absolutely be compensated for her wrist injury.
However, the takeaway here is not that the system is bucked against you, so just give up.
No, the message is this: None of the states have perfected a fair way to always come to the correct decision in cases of workplace injury; therefore, you need to know that compatible, trained and experienced attorneys are available to give you legal advice and counsel through a maze of rules and regulations.
We can help you find an attorney
Frequently enough, a worker’s compensation case may be so complex as to demand legal representation. However, sometimes what seems like a cut-and-dried situation to an injured worker may result in a smaller award than envisioned–or even a denial. Have you, a friend or a loved one been injured on the job? Whether you’re merely seeking answers about your rights or believe a lawsuit may be necessary, be sure to seek counsel with attorneys trained and experienced in workers’ compensation. Here’s some resources:
Workers compensation basics
Injury on the job