Safety and OSHA News

Not sure what she tripped over: Is this a compensable injury?

The employee in this case was injured while walking down a hallway. She fell when she tripped over something, but she’s not sure what made her fall. Is this a workers’ comp injury? 

Mary Sue Rodriguez, a nursing instructor, fractured her wrist when she fell while at work on Aug. 2, 2016. She lectures and teaches at two medical facilities both in the classroom and where patient care is being provided.

On the day of the injury, she was at Ohio Valley Medical Center teaching a class. She was walking down a hallway with some students from a classroom toward the pediatric department when she slipped and landed on her arm. She was on duty at the time. Rodriguez says she couldn’t find what she tripped on, but says she definitely tripped on something. The floor was flat, and her shoe laces were tied.

Rodriguez says she didn’t see any wet spots on the floor, and she was wearing her duty shoes which are supposed to help prevent slips.

A claims administrator rejected her request for workers’ comp benefits. The West Virginia Office of Judges reversed the decision. It found Rodriguez was acting within the scope of her employment when she was injured. It also said the fact that the injury occurred at a different facility than her employer, Reynolds Memorial Hospital, didn’t remove Rodriguez from the scope of employment as part of her job was to teach at Ohio Valley Medical Center, too.

The decision was also affirmed by the West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Board of Review. Her employer appealed to a state court.

The hospital alleged the fall was the result of clumsiness. But the state appeals court found that allegation wasn’t sufficiently supported by the evidence. Rodriguez was adamant clumsiness wasn’t a factor in her fall.

The appeals court said Rodriguez should received workers’ comp benefits.

It’s not always the case that an unexplained fall in the workplace is covered by workers’ comp. Rulings vary depending on circumstances and state law.

(Reynolds Memorial Hospital v. Mary Sue Rodriguez, West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, No. 17-1031, 3/21/18)

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  1. This is actually more common than it seems. A company I worked at in the past had an employee trip/fall and sustain an OSHA recordable injury while walking through a paved parking lot. We found no uneven surfaces, rocks or anything that may have caused him to trip. When closing the investigation the conclusion was he tripped over his own feet.
    It can be frustrating to say the least. Say you bring in a new type of high-speed saw to make a task easier. You train your employees on the new tool, make sure all the guards are in place, check the job set-up, make sure everyone has their PPE, write up a good JSA then Wham(!), an employee drops a lid while taking it out of the tool box and fractures a finger. It happened.
    Not long ago I saw a company with an outstanding safety record come to an end because a guy fell off his bicycle.

  2. At my former employer, we had an incident where a janitor was walking down a hallway pushing her janitorial cart, and all of a sudden started limping (video cameras everywhere). She actually broke her foot. Our investigation concluded there was no mechanism of injury on our part, and that in her normal course of walking this would have happened anywhere at anytime so we did not cover workers comp on this incident.

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