Safety and OSHA News

Employee doesn’t remember fall, no one saw it: Can he get comp?

An employee apparently fell from the third floor of a building onto the ground, suffering multiple injuries. He applied for workers’ comp, but his employer said he didn’t prove his injury was in the course of his employment. Did a court grant the employee workers’ comp benefits? 

Cori Acosta worked as a houseman at the Canyon Plaza Resort in Arizona for one day.

That’s because on his first day working at Canyon (Nov. 18, 2014), Acosta fell over a balcony railing on either the second or third floor and landed face down on the ground.

No one saw him fall, and Acosta says he doesn’t remember falling either.

He suffered a broken nose, broken ribs, eye laceration, and a compression fracture of a vertebra. Acosta filed for workers’ comp, and his claim was denied. He requested a hearing before the Arizona Industrial Commission.

An administrative law judge awarded him workers’ comp benefits based on the unexplained fall presumption. Canyon appealed the decision to a state court.

Trainee was working alone

Acosta says he fell three stories using a ladder and he doesn’t remember anything else including how that happened. The last thing he remembers before being in the hospital was vacuuming an interior hallway, but he thinks he might have become “sidetracked and went to go clean something with a ladder in the stairwell, or something like that.”

Acosta was working alone at the time of his injury. Another housekeeping staffer testified he was cleaning a guest room when he heard Acosta call out. The employee saw Acosta on the ground, and it appeared he had fallen through a tree which had broken branches that hadn’t been broken before. He testified he had ADHD that made it difficult to remain calm and focused. He wasn’t taking any medication for ADHD at the time.

Another houseman who was training Acosta testified the two had split up to check on the linen supply. The trainer said he heard Acosta moaning and found him lying face down on the ground, dazed and bleeding. The trainer said Acosta’s job didn’t require him to be close to the balcony railing. There were no ladders present.

The unexplained fall presumption says when an employee’s unexplained fall arises from an unknown cause or from a cause that can be attributed neither to the employee not to the employment, the fall is presumed to “arise out of” employment if it occurred “in the course of” employment.

Canyon argues Acosta wasn’t injured in the course of employment because the houseman job didn’t require Acosta to be near the balcony railings. The employer also noted the railings were high enough to prevent falls. The court said that, by implication, it appeared Canyon was arguing that any fall must have been intentional.

The court disagreed with the company’s take on the situation:

“Claimant’s injury occurred at work, during work hours, and while Claimant was still on duty. There was no evidence that Claimant had any intention of injuring himself. Further, Claimant testified that he had no recollection of what he was doing at the time he fell or how it happened. The unexplained fall doctrine applied precisely because there was no explanation for the events leading up to Claimant’s injury.”

For those reasons, the state appeals court upheld the administrative law judge’s decision to grant Acosta’s workers’ comp claim.

What do you think about the ruling in this case? Let us know in the comments.

(Canyon Plaza Resort v.  Cori Acosta, Arizona Court of Appeals Div. One, No. 1 CA-IC 15-0050, 5/12/16)

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