An employee injures her knee just by walking up stairs at work and applies for workers’ comp benefits.
Maureen Shay was a teacher in North Carolina. She normally used the school’s elevator to reach the second floor where her classroom was because it was difficult for her to walk up the stairs.
Then the elevator broke and she had to use the stairs. A month later, her knee gave out while walking up the stairs.
Another month later, her knee pain hadn’t improved. An MRI revealed a medial meniscus tear in her knee.
Shay had surgery and filed a claim for workers’ comp benefits.
The insurance company denied coverage, saying the injury wasn’t work-related.
On appeal, the workers’ comp commission ruled in Shay’s favor and awarded her benefits.
The company appealed to a state court.
Was it an ‘accident?’
In court, both sides agreed that the injury arose out of and in the course of Shay’s employment. However, there was another issue to settle.
Under the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act, an employee is entitled to compensation for an injury only if it is caused by an “accident.”
North Carolina courts have defined accident as “the direct result of a specific traumatic incident” and not part of the employee’s normal work routine.
The court said in Shay’s case, since she didn’t stumble, fall, trip, slip or twist her knee, she didn’t suffer an accident.
Shay tried to argue that, because the elevator broke, walking up stairs to her classroom wasn’t part of her normal work routine.
But the court didn’t buy that argument either. It noted that she’d been walking up the stairs for four weeks before she injured her knee. It said that climbing the stairs for a month became part of her normal work routine.
The court’s final word: Comp benefits denied.
(Shay v. Rowan Salisbury Schools, Court of Appeals of NC, No. COA-09-1587, 7/20/10.)
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