A 74-year-old nurse had a 40-year history of injuries to her left leg from car accidents and falls. One day at work, the nurse's knee was hurting and she told her co-workers that she planned to go to the emergency room after her shift. One co-worker noticed that the nurse was limping more than usual, and she rewrapped a bandage around the nurse's thigh.
The nurse's duties included passing out medication and glasses of water to patients. The nurse retrieved one patient's medication, poured a glass of water and headed into the patient's room. The nurse realized she forgot to bring the glass of water, so she pivoted on her left leg to get it. As she did, the nurse said that her leg "popped like a shotgun" and she was immediately in pain. An X-ray revealed that the nurse suffered a fracture to her left femur.
The nurse's orthopedic surgeon testified that at the time of the fracture, the nurse had completely healed from a previous fracture two inches lower on her left femur.
A surgeon testifying for the employer opined that the fracture was a "spontaneous fracture" caused by diseased bone and that numerous surgeries made the nurse more susceptible to another fracture.
The Workers' Compensation Commission decided that the nurse's injury did not arise out of her employment, so she was ineligible for benefits.
Was the commission correct in denying benefits to the nurse?
A. Yes. No medical evidence showed causation between the nurse's work and her fracture. The fracture was a natural progression of her history of leg injuries.
B. No. Through the eyes of the nurse, the fractured femur was an unexpected result of passing out medication to her patients.
C. Yes. Simply being at work while an injury occurs does not mean the injury arose out of her employment.
How the court ruled: B.
The court ruled that the commissioner incorrectly decided that the nurse suffered a noncompensable injury. Beverly Healthcare and American Home Assurance Co. v. Hare, No. 2009-WC-00344-COA (Miss. Ct. App. 06/29/10).
The court stated that a worker sustains an accidental injury if, when looking through the worker's eyes, there is harm to the worker from work-related activity that was either from an unexpected event or was an unexpected result. In this case, the nurse was doing her job in the usual way when she was injured.
The court also noted that the commission erred by not considering the statute's humanitarian aims to compensate and make an injured worker whole.
A is incorrect. The court decided that the nurse proved causation and stated that a claimant is entitled to benefits if the employment acts upon her preexisting condition to produce disability.
Additionally, the court noted that the commission erred by not considering law that states an employer takes a worker as she is found, with all the physical strengths and weaknesses she brings to the job.
C is incorrect. The court decided that the nurse established a prima facie case of disability. The injury was accidental, and it occurred while she was performing her duties. The nurse also proved by substantial evidence that there was a causal connection between the injury and her job.
is the legal editor of the WorkersComp Forum.
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September 9, 2010
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