Case name: Padilla v. Twin City Fire Insurance Co., No. M2008-02489-SC-WCM-WC (Tenn. 10/06/10).
Ruling: The Tennessee Supreme Court held that the widow of a worker killed in an unsolved shooting at work was not entitled to death benefits.
What it means: In Tennessee, the injured employee always has the burden of proving entitlement to workers' compensation benefits.
Summary: An apprentice millworker for a window and door manufacturer was generally the first employee to arrive at the shop each morning. One morning, the shop owner discovered the millworker's body laying near the rear door with four gunshot wounds. He also saw a pipe laying across his body. The shop owner determined that nothing had been stolen. The homicide case went unsolved. The millworker's widow sought death benefits. The Tennessee Supreme Court held that the widow was not entitled to benefits.
The widow argued that the millworker was killed during a burglary gone wrong and his death was connected with his work. The court disagreed, stating that there was no evidence of an effort to break into the business and nothing was taken. The court stated that the millworker may have been killed during a random assault.
The widow also asserted that the "street risk" doctrine entitled her to recovery. The street risk doctrine states that "the risks of the street are the risks of the employment, if the employment requires the employee's use of the street." The court stated that although the shop was located in a neighborhood with a higher than average crime rate, the business was not frequented by the public. The shop was secured with locks and a burglar alarm. The court decided that the doctrine did not apply.
Additionally, the widow argued that employees injured in neutral force assaults are entitled to compensation unless the employer can prove the injury arose from the employee's personal activities. In rejecting the widow's argument, the court noted that it has consistently held that the injured employee always has the burden of proof in workers' compensation cases.
The court said that the widow's position would enable employees injured by a neutral risk to recover simply because they were injured at work.
A dissenting judge stated that this case had a "reasonable doubt" about whether the millworker's death arose out of his employment because there was no connection to his personal life and the widow should be entitled to benefits.
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January 10, 2011
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