Can an injured worker collect workers’ compensation benefits if his back injury came about because his manager cracked his back for him following a double shift?
The District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District overturned a judge’s ruling that granted benefits to the worker because there wasn’t enough evidence to support a work-related injury.
Double shift with no breaks leads to back pain
Jonathan Haselden worked as a grill cook at Waffle House. On June 15, 2019, after working an 18-hour shift, Haselden experienced severe pain in his lower back.
When his manager arrived that morning, Haselden told him that he hadn’t been able to take any real breaks during the double shift, leading to the back pain. This led to both men agreeing that popping or cracking Haselden’s back could relieve some of the pain. Haselden couldn’t remember if it was him or his manager that came up with this idea.
The manager had Haselden place his hands behind his head with his fingers interlaced while the manager pushed down on Haselden’s elbows. After the “procedure,” Haselden didn’t notice any immediate changes. He went home immediately after.
Later that day, Haselden couldn’t stand up straight and had nerve pains running down his leg. He tried to return to work that evening, but he had to leave after two hours due to his back pain. Haselden was terminated two weeks later.
Judge finds 18-hour shift, back manipulation caused injury
Haselden filed two petitions for workers’ compensation benefits, one seeking disability benefits and the other for medical treatment for back pain radiating into his left leg and knee. He described the incident that caused the injury, leading Waffle House to contest the claim.
During a hearing before a judge of compensation claims, Haselden presented evidence in the form of two medical reports that both concluded that the amateur chiropractic treatment could have caused the injury. However, only one of these reports determined that the incident was the major contributing factor.
The judge found that Haselden sustained an injury either from working the double shift or from his manager manipulating his back. Further, both mechanisms of injury occurred within the course of employment because Haselden was on work premises during his shift either working the grill or receiving pain relief assistance from a manager, according to the judge.
Waffle House appealed the decision, arguing that the incident wasn’t work-related.
Appeals court: No proof that injury resulted from work duties
The District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District agreed, finding that the judge erred in two respects:
- Haselden never pleaded or proved that the double shift was the cause of his injuries, and
- there was no proof that Haselden’s injuries from the back manipulation arose from the work duties he performed for Waffle House.
With the double shift ruled out as a cause for the injury, Haselden had to establish that the back manipulation was caused by his work at Waffle House. The appeals court said that the injury had to be caused by the work performed to be compensable, because Florida workers’ compensation law “does not cover workplace injuries, it covers work-caused injuries.”
Occupational causation can’t be established “based solely on a showing that but for the employee being at work he would not have been injured in the manner and at the particular time that he was hurt,” according to the appeals court.
This led the court to overturn the judge’s order and deny Haselden any workers’ compensation benefits.