An employee fell at work while walking and broke her hip. There was no spill or other hazard on the walking surface, but the employee said the floor was “tacky.” Does she get workers’ comp?
Ann White fell as she walked through an exam room at Five Rivers Health Center in Ohio to deliver mail. She filed a workers’ comp claim for her broken hip.
The Ohio Industrial Commission denied her comp request, but a trial court reversed that decision. Five Rivers appealed.
White said the exam room floor was “tacky,” and that caused her fall. At trial, she presented a report from an expert who examined the floor two weeks after her fall. The expert said the floor may have been stripped but not yet rewaxed at the time of White’s fall.
A senior nurse testified the floor wasn’t tacky or hazardous the day White fell. The health center also presented documentation to show the floor hadn’t been stripped and rewaxed for more than a year.
Nevertheless, the trial court ruled White’s injury was explained by a workplace condition – the tacky floor – therefore she should receive workers’ comp.
Preexisting medical conditions a factor?
The appeals court said the only question in this case was whether White’s fall arose out of her employment. The appeals court faulted the trial court for not considering idiopathic causes of the fall – whether White’s preexisting medical conditions were a factor.
Ohio’s Supreme Court had ruled in other cases that the injured employee has the burden of showing that there were no idiopathic causes. If there is no evidence anything outside of employment caused the fall, then it’s compensable.
Even if there is an idiopathic cause, the employee can still show something related to employment contributed to the fall, such as a hazard.
The appeals court said White presented very little evidence that an idiopathic cause didn’t contribute to her injury. The only evidence presented was White’s testimony that she’d never had a problem with her hip before the fall.
But White’s medical history included type II diabetes, neuropathy in her leg, pain in her foot, corns and calluses, “non compliance with medication regimen,” and a prescription for Norco, a medication that includes an opioid.
Since the cause of her fall wasn’t clear, White bore the burden of showing that idiopathic conditions didn’t cause her fall.
The appeals court said because the trial court didn’t consider this question, the previous decision should be thrown out and sent back for further proceedings.
White appears to have an uphill battle. It’s difficult to prove a negative – that something in her medical history didn’t contribute to her fall. The documentation from the health center that the floor hadn’t been recently stripped and rewaxed is another hurdle she’ll have to overcome.
(White v. Buehrer, Court of Appeals of Ohio second Appellate District, No. 27295, 10/20/17)