Safety and OSHA News

Employee injured falling off yoga ball at her desk: Did she get workers’ comp?

This employee suffered a concussion at work without even leaving her desk. 

On July 28, 2016, Heidi Migliori, an administrative analyst at Northwest Arkansas Community College (NWACC), took a yoga ball from a co-worker’s office, and used it in place of an office chair at her desk while working on her computer. She’d never sat on a yoga ball before.

When she needed a book that was behind her, she instinctively turned and pushed off from her desk, as she’d do in a chair, which caused her to fall off the ball and hit the left side of her head on the desk.

Migliori reported the injury and sought medical treatment. She suffered left-side facial numbness, left-ear ringing, neck pain, vertigo and headaches.

She sought additional medical treatment on Aug. 1, 2016 because she still felt pain and had ringing in her left ear.

CT scans were normal. A radiology report said Migliori had been treated for postconcussion headache and other symptoms.

Two days later, Migliori still had symptoms and requested a referral to a chiropractor she’d seen previously for neck and back issues and migraines following a car crash in April 2012 in which she suffered severe whiplash.

Migliori says the problems she experienced after falling off the yoga ball were “most certainly different” from the problems she had after the crash. She also said before falling off the ball, she wasn’t having any problems.

She eventually saw an audiologist. That doctor’s treatment greatly improved her condition.

A doctor said Migliori couldn’t work for two weeks and had to be on light-duty for two more weeks after that. She was released to return to work without restrictions on Aug. 28, 2016.

Migliori sought workers’ comp benefits for her fall. NWACC rejected the claim, saying Migliori didn’t suffer a compensable injury and her need for medical treatment wasn’t related to the office injury but rather to pre-existing medical issues.

An administrative law judge ruled Migliori met her burden of proving she suffered a compensable head injury and was entitled to medical and temporary total disability benefits. The Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission affirmed the ALJ’s opinion. NWACC appealed to a state court.

Employer says she didn’t fall

NWACC argued that Migliori’s fall didn’t occur. The college pointed out there were no witnesses and neither of the two co-workers who came to help her saw a bump, bruise or swelling on her head immediately afterward.

The appeals court said there was substantial evidence to support the finding that Migliori fell off the yoga ball. Migliori testified she reported the fall immediately. Two co-workers testified they found Migliori on her knees at her desk holding her head. They said it looked like she had been crying and was upset. Migliori reported the accident, emailed her supervisor, spoke with HR and the college’s nurse, and was referred to a clinic where she received treatment within hours of the fall. Medical records from that date corroborate Migliori’s testimony.

NWACC also argued Migliori’s symptoms were pre-existing conditions from her car crash. While she did have some ringing in her ears after the crash, the doctor who treated her said it was made worse after her fall.

The appeals court said the Commission had weighed the medical evidence and properly decided Migliori should receive workers’ comp benefits for her fall off the yoga ball.

And what about the whole idea of using yoga/exercise balls in place of office chairs? Studies say don’t do it. You’re better off with an ergonomic office chair. Exercise/yoga balls should be left for exercise and yoga.

(Northwest Arkansas Community College v. Heidi Marie Migliori, Arkansas Court of Appeals Division II, No. CV-17-1401, 5/2/18)

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  1. Pamela S Stanson says:

    As far as I’m concerned, this is covered by WC. The employee was at work according to info–would apply even if working remotely. Unless work said “No” to chair, and even then there would have to be safeguards in place–documentation in place, etc–and the person was NOT working from home, unless all this was in place, the employer would have a problem and possible claim. If the person is claiming a back problem, there need to be other solutions that are considered before accepting this exposure. If this type of chair is accepted by work, then they will have to accept the repercussions and should have accepted the risk on the basis of acceptable risk. If not, then there should be documentation in file that stated this chair was not accepted and that they (work) did not pay for the chair–no acceptance in any form or fashion. If they didn’t go to this length to provide protection for the possibilities, then “Shame on them” for not being more proactive in controlling their risks.

    • Earl Knight says:

      Pamela, I agree with everything you say here. However, from my take on the article, they weren’t arguing that she should have not been using the yoga ball as a chair, just that it was their belief that she didn’t really fall and her injuries were from a preexisting condition. That being said they had no evidence that it DIDN’T happen, so she is right to get the benefits.

  2. Kyle Schroeck says:

    Do I really need to put into our office work methods that yoga balls and other items not designed for sitting shall not be used in the office? As a safety professional, I would think that it was common sense, especially when said employee is unfamiliar with the device.

    • Michael says:

      Hi Kyle – yes I recommend that you incorporate that into your safety policy. Same goes for wearing seatbelts and following all traffic laws within the state in which you are currently driving in. Just because it is a law doesn’t make it work comp proof. Certain states, such as Missouri, have safety penalties that can be assessed in favor or against the employer if certain things are met showing the employee had knowledge of “X” being against the rules while working.

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