For most employees, turning around isn’t dangerous. But for a nurse in Mississippi, that simple act resulted in a broken leg, a protracted court battle, and ultimately, a sizable workers’ comp award.
Irene Hare was 74 at the time. She’d had serious problems with her left leg since 1964, when a car accident killed her mother and crushed her left ankle and knee. She’d walked with a limp ever since.
In 1987, another car crash again severely damaged the same left knee and ankle. After having a screw and side plate implanted in her left femur, she eventually had her kneecap removed.
In ’88, she slipped on some ice and broke her femur above the knee.
Finally, in 2000, she broke her pelvis after falling off a curb.
But she was back at work one night in 2005. In fact, she was working for the sixth day in a row, although she was supposed to work only four days a week. She was always happy to fill in when others took time off.
Her leg, she admitted, hurt more than usual that night, and she told co-workers she planned to get a shot for arthritis when her shift ended.
While delivering meds to a patient, she remembered she’d left a glass of water on her cart. So she pivoted. And her left leg “popped just like a shotgun.” X-rays showed she’d fractured her left femur.
She filed a workers’ comp claim.
Her employer argued that the injury hadn’t arisen out of her employment. Rather, it was a natural progression of her 40-year history of injuries and surgeries on her left leg.
It brought in an expert witness who said she had significant weakness in the leg that made her susceptible to a “spontaneous fragility fracture.” The fracture could have occurred during any normal life activities, he said, but it happened to occur while she was doing her job.
Not true, said her treating doctor. Her past injuries were completely healed by the time of the accident, and this injury was “further up the shaft … well away from her original fracture.”
In overruling a comp commission decision that denied benefits, a court of appeals gave more weight to the treating doctor’s testimony, and added “that the employer takes the worker as the worker is found, that is, with all the physical strengths and weaknesses the worker brings to the job. If a lame worker suffers an employment fall and is injured, the injury is said to arise out of and in the course of employment under the same test applied for workers not lame. By the same token, if an awkward worker stumbles and falls, the rule is the same as if the worker were agile.”
The court also said the commission had failed to consider “the humanitarian aims” of comp laws to compensate and make injured workers whole.
A dissenting judge thought comp should have been denied, saying “the singular fact that an injury occurs while an employee is on the job does not create a compensable injury … I fear that the majority’s conclusion (turns every) employer into an insurer or guarantor for all injuries to any of its employees who suffer an ‘untoward’ event while on the job.”
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Cite: Beverly Healthcare v. Hare, Ct. App. Miss., No. 2009-WC-00344-COA, 6/29/10.