MO Comp Update: Court of Appeals – Injuries that occur before work can still be compensable
MO Workers Compensation Update
The Court of Appeals reversed a defense award by the Industrial Commission in the attached case of Annayeva v. The Special Administrative Board for the St. Louis School District, decided on July 30, 2019.
Here, claimant slipped and fell in walking into the school BEFORE actually starting her workday. She was carrying folders, student papers, and lesson plans and slipped and fell as she walked through the doors of the school. There was some dispute as to whether there was anything on the floor at the time of her fall.
The Administrative Law Judge entered his award denying compensation for benefits because Claimant failed to prove the issue of medical causation. The ALJ found that Claimant had “failed to provide credible testimony to the Court” and found that her testimony regarding her “injuries and their subsequent effects verged on the point of malingering.” The ALJ further concluded that “Claimant has not met her burden of showing the incident of January 8, 2013 was the prevailing factor causing the physiological and/or psychological complaints.”
The Industrial Commission affirmed the decision of the ALJ with a supplemental opinion in which it denied compensability of Claimant’s claim based upon a finding that Claimant’s injuries did not arise out of and in the course of her employment under the “No Greater Risk” defense.
The Commission concluded that the “risk source was walking; Claimant was walking on an even, flat surface when she fell. There was nothing about Claimant’s work that caused her to fall.” The Commission also found that Claimant was “injured while she was at work, but not because she was at work”.
The Court of Appeals reversed the Commission and found this claim to be compensable, stating:
“Being employed at the high school exposed her to that particular hazard, in that she walks through that same entrance every day and she walks to the clock room each work day. See id. Claimant’s injury did not result because she was walking; it resulted from walking on Employer’s allegedly unclean floor as a function of her employment and slipping on the foreign substance(s) present on that floor. Therefore, Claimant met her burden of establishing that her injury “arose out of” her employment because it resulted from a condition that was related to her employment.”
This is a classic example of defense counsel asserting the correct defenses but the Court of Appeals capitalized on the Commission’s failure to base its decision on the credibility of the witnesses (which the Court of Appeals could NOT reverse) rather than basing the decision on the legal defense of “No Greater Risk”.
Despite this outcome, the Employer correctly asserted that:
- Medical evidence did not support a work injury, and
- Employment did not place claimant at any greater risk of injury.
Remember that since claimant was carrying items in her hands at the time of the fall, coupled with the alleged presence of foreign material on the floor in the area where claimant fell – – both of these components can defeat the “No Greater Risk” defense as we see in this case.
If you would like to discuss how this decision might apply to any specific cases you are handling, please let me know.