Apparently, there’s no end to the variety of injuries employees can suffer on the job, for which they want to get workers’ comp benefits. Today’s injury: a spider bite.
Danny Wilson worked for Ace Hardware as a forklift battery exchanger. He exchanged, charged and maintained batteries for 90 forklifts in a warehouse.
One day, Wilson was cleaning under the battery rack station with a broom when he felt something sting his finger.
His finger turned red and he reported it to his supervisor.
Two days later, Wilson went to an emergency room due to the pain from his hand. He was diagnosed with a skin infection from a spider bite and was prescribed antibiotics and painkillers.
When he had to visit the hospital a second time, doctors said the infection in his hand had spread to the rest of his body. He was hospitalized for five days.
Wilson applied for workers’ comp wage loss benefits for a period of over two months and payment for medical expenses. His company denied benefits.
At a hearing before a deputy commissioner, Wilson testified spiders were a problem at his workplace. He was bitten a second time and was able to capture that spider. It was a brown recluse spider that can cause serious infections in some people.
The HR manager at the worksite said he wasn’t aware of any other employees in the maintenance department being bitten by spiders over a two-year period.
The deputy commissioner ruled that Wilson failed to prove that he was exposed to a greater risk of spider bites at work than the risk encountered by the general public and denied him comp. On appeal, the full Workers’ Compensation Commission of Virginia agreed with the commissioner’s decision.
Wilson took his case to a state appeals court.
Under Virginia’s Workers’ Compensation Act, an injured employee must prove that an injury arose:
- in the course of employment, and
- out of employment.
No one disputed that Wilson’s spider bite occurred in the course of his employment. However, the court challenged the notion that his injury arose out of his employment.
The court noted previous state court rulings that said, “the mere happening of an accident in the workplace, not caused by any work-related risk or significant work-related exertion, is not compensable,” and the worker “must show that a condition of the workplace either caused or contributed to” the injury.
The court agreed with the commissioner: Wilson’s work put him at no greater risk of receiving a spider bite than the general public.
Since he didn’t provide enough evidence to prove that the spider bite was due to a particular condition at work, Wilson was denied workers’ comp.
Did the court get it right? Have you ever had an employee suffer an injury brought on by contact with an arachnid, insect or other animal at work? Let us know in the Comments Box below.
You can view a PDF of the case here.
(Wilson v. Ace Hardware Corp., Court of Appeals of VA, No. 1719-10-2, 5/10/2011)