An injured worker who fell at work from a dizzy spell brought on by high temperatures can collect workers’ compensation benefits despite the incident being unwitnessed, according to an appeals court.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals found that the medical evidence revealed a work-related injury and that the employer failed to present any evidence to refute her account of the incident.
Heat-related dizzy spell leads to broken knee
Kimberly Woolford worked part time as a server for Bob Evans Farms. On May 26, 2019, Woolford injured her right knee at work when she got dizzy and lost her footing, which caused her to fall.
Woolford claimed she had become dizzy while walking between the kitchen prep area and the breakroom because she was overheated. She claimed that the restaurant’s air conditioner wasn’t working properly on what was a warm day.
After seeking treatment at MedExpress on the same day she was injured, a doctor diagnosed Woolford with right knee pain and referred her to an orthopedist. However, the x-ray machine at the MedExpress wasn’t working that day, and she went to a hospital for treatment a few days later.
The hospital took an x-ray and noted that she had a fractured knee. An MRI that was taken later revealed that her right knee was broken with fragments.
Woolford was told to stay out of work while she recovered, which led to her filing a workers’ compensation claim.
‘Her testimony wasn’t persuasive’
A claims administrator rejected her claim and her request for an orthopedic referral on June 6, 2019.
The Office of Judges upheld the claims administrator’s decision on Nov. 18, 2020, reasoning that because Woolford said her injury didn’t stem from a slip or trip and was unwitnessed her account of the incident wasn’t persuasive.
In its decision, the Office of Judges concluded that the incident took place at 7:15 a.m. on May 26, which was a day in late spring before the heat of the day would’ve affected her in the way she claimed. It noted that Woolford didn’t claim that the heat from the kitchen contributed to her dizzy spell. Further, there was no testimony from her co-workers corroborating the temperature in the building.
Woolford’s fall was just as likely due to an idiopathic reason than it was from the heat, the Office of Judges found. It also noted there was nothing about the restaurant’s floor that would have presented an unusual risk of injury.
Employer didn’t refute testimony
A May 24, 2021, decision by the Board of Review overturned the Office of Judges’ decision, finding the claim was compensable and granting the requested treatment.
The Board of Review found that the Office of Judges’ findings regarding the heat and Woolford’s dizziness were speculative. Its decision notes there was no evidence submitted to refute Woolford’s testimony that she became overheated due to a malfunctioning air conditioner, got dizzy and fell. Further, all of the medical evidence pointed toward a work-related knee injury.
Evidence points to occupational knee injury
On appeal with the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, the court agreed with the Board of Review decision.
The court said that “for an injury to be compensable it must be a personal injury that was received in the course of employment, and it must have resulted from that employment.” In Woolford’s case, all of the medical evidence pointed toward an occupational right knee injury and her employer submitted no evidence refuting her testimony, which meant there was no reason to deny her claim.