In some states, workers’ comp won’t provide disability coverage if an employee’s injury resulted from a hazard that regularly occurs outside the workplace. That’s why in this case, defining what is and what isn’t a workplace hazard determined whether an employee received benefits.
Elizabeth Wilson worked as a manager at a Dollar Tree store in Virginia. Part of her regular duties was to close out cash registers at the end of shifts.
Wilson was doing that one day when her foot caught on a display stack of cases of one-gallon water containers that were stacked three cases deep and three cases wide at the front of where a cash register was located.
The manager said she grabbed the end of the register to keep from falling but felt “immediate pain.”
Wilson didn’t realize how serious her injury was initially. A week later, pain caused her to seek medical attention. An MRI revealed fractures to her left femur. She had surgery to repair the fracture, and her doctor released her for light-duty work two months after she fell. After another 12 weeks, the doctor released her from all restrictions.
Wilson sought temporary total disability benefits for a period in between her fall and when she returned to light duty.
A deputy commissioner of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission denied the claim, ruling Wilson failed to meet her burden of establishing that her injury arose out of her employment. On appeal, the full Commission reversed the ruling. The Commission said the stack of cases of water bottles constituted a workplace hazard, therefore Wilson should receive workers’ comp benefits.
Dollar Tree went to a state appeals court to get the Commission’s ruling reversed. The company argued there was no evidence showing Wilson’s injury arose out of her employment.
The appeals court noted that Virginia uses what is known as an actual risk test to determine whether an injury arises out of employment. This test refers to the origin or cause of the injury. Specifically, a causal connection must exist between the conditions under which work is performed and the resulting injury.
The court said Wilson’s case was different from another one in which an employee tripped over the threshold of a doorway. There was no evidence the threshold was unusual or defective, so it wasn’t a hazard that was specific to the workplace.
Wilson’s employment required her to maneuver around the stack of cases after closing out the register for the day. The water stack was a hazard in the workplace, therefore the court affirmed the Commission’s ruling that Wilson should receive workers’ comp benefits.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments.
(Dollar Tree Stores Inc. v. Elizabeth Wilson, Court of Appeals of Virginia, No. 0474-14-3, 12/2/14)