An employee fractured her ankle on stairs at work and filed for workers’ comp. Is this a compensable injury?
The test for workers’ comp in most states is whether the injury arose out of and occurred in the course of employment.
“In the course of” refers to the time, place and circumstances surrounding the injury.
“Arising out of” requires a “causal connection” between the injury and work activities.
No one disputes that employee Carol Kainz broke her ankle at work at the Arrowhead Senior Living Community in Minnesota. Because the injury occurred at work and during the workday, that satisfied the “in the course of” requirement.
But determining whether the injury arose out of employment is where the dispute lies.
A compensation judge awarded benefits to Kainz, and the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) affirmed the decision, relying on its previous decision in another case, Dykhoff v. Xcel Energy.
Dykhoff applied a “work-connection test” that balanced the “arising out of” and “in the course of” requirements.
When Kainz’s case made it to the Minnesota Supreme Court, the justices decided that they first had to look at the test used in the Dykhoff decision, which they hadn’t considered previously.
Fall caused dislocated kneecap
Toni Dykhoff fell and dislocated her left kneecap while attending a required training session at the office of her employer, Xcel Energy.
A compensation judge found Dykhoff’s injury didn’t arise out of and in the course of her employment and denied her workers’ comp claim.
The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals reversed the compensation judge.
But the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the WCCA’s decision about the compensability of Dykhoff’s claim was incorrect, and it reinstated the decision of the compensation judge.
The compensation judge found that for Dykhoff to get workers’ comp benefits, she had to show that her injury was caused by an “increase risk” – a risk related to her work activity or environment that “heightened the likelihood of an injury beyond the level of risk experienced by the general public.”
The WCCA used the “work-connection balancing test” to decide Dykhoff’s case. The WCCA concluded that “the arising out of element may not be as strong as it would be in a case that clearly passed the increased risk test, but the in the course of element is strong enough to outweigh any deficiencies here.”
The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected the work-connection balancing test because the state’s workers’ comp law requires the injury both “arises out of and in the course of” employment. The court said the balancing test could allow the employee to skip proving one element if the other one is very strong, and that would be contrary to what the workers’ comp law says.
Since the court rejected the balancing test in Dykhoff, it ruled it couldn’t be considered in Kainz’s case. The case now goes back to the compensation judge for reconsideration.
Results in similar cases in other states have varied:
- In North Carolina, comp benefits were denied to a worker whose knee popped walking up stairs
- In Mississippi, a worker broke her leg while turning around and was awarded comp, and
- Recently in South Carolina, its supreme court ruled that simple slip-and-fall injuries at work were eligible for workers’ comp.
Do you think employees should be able to receive workers’ comp for slip/trip-and-fall injuries on the job? If so, under what circumstances? Let us know in the comments.
(Arrowhead Senior Living Community v. Carol J. Kainz, Minnesota Supreme Court, No. A14-1521, 3/4/15)