Safety and OSHA News

Employee injured during training: Can she get workers’ comp?

An employer argued a worker’s injury during training was cumulative, therefore not eligible for workers’ comp. How did a court rule? 

Morrisa Dugger, a correctional officer with Riverside Regional Jail Authority in Virginia, injured her right knee during training on defensive acts. The training lasted four hours, and included simulated fights where she was “tossed around and taken down.”

Dugger noticed knee pain as she was leaving the class. She had swelling in her knee, and a supervisor told her to get it checked. She was eventually diagnosed with a torn meniscus.

She filed for workers’ comp medical benefits, and a deputy commissioner granted her request. Her employer appealed, and the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission affirmed the decision. The WCC said Dugger’s training “constituted an actual risk of employment.”

Her employer appealed to a state court, arguing Dugger’s injury didn’t qualify for workers’ comp benefits because she was engaged in repetitive movements and she couldn’t point to any one incident that caused her injury.

Virginia’s Supreme Court previously ruled that injuries resulting from repetitive trauma as well as injuries sustained at an unknown time don’t qualify for workers’ comp benefits.

But the state’s highest court also ruled that the death of a police recruit who died during training was covered. The recruit was “violently struck in the head during training” on multiple occasions. The Virginia Supreme Court said this wasn’t a case of repetitive trauma, rather, the recruit “suffered an obvious mechanical or structural change in his body while engaged in a work activity.”

The appeals court found Dugger’s case was similar to the police recruit’s. Among the court’s findings:

  • Dugger’s injuries resulted from a variety of movements, not one made over and over
  • Her torn meniscus was a structural change to her body that occurred while she was in the defensive training class, and
  • Dugger had signs of her injury immediately after the class, so her injury was sufficiently “bound by rigid temporal precision,” i.e. happened at a particular time.

The appeals court affirmed the Commission’s decision that Dugger’s injury during a training class qualified for workers’ comp medical benefits. (Dugger didn’t receive wage replacement benefits because she was able to do desk work while she was injured.)

(Riverside Regional Jail Authority v. Morrisa Dugger, Court of Appeals of VA, No. 0153-17-2, 7/25/17)

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