A worker for a security company injured his left knee on the job. While stationed at his desk, he stood up to reach for forms stored on a shelf and felt pain and a pop in his knee. He immediately sat back down in his chair. He did not strike his knee against his desk and did not trip or stumble. He sought benefits. The security company denied benefits, claiming that the injury did not arise out of his employment.
Two weeks after the injury, an orthopedic surgeon diagnosed tears to the ligament and meniscus. He performed arthroscopic surgery. After a period of recovery and therapy, the worker reached maximum medical improvement. The surgeon assigned a permanent impairment rating of 4 percent to the body as a whole and 9 percent to the lower left extremity. The worker returned to work with no restrictions, but he experienced continuous pain in his knee. As a result of the injury, the worker had nearly $12,000 in unpaid medical expenses.
The trial court denied compensation, finding that the injury was idiopathic in nature. An idiopathic injury is one that has an unexplained nature and generally does not arise out of the employment unless a "condition of the employment presents a peculiar or additional hazard." The trial court said the worker had been injured in the course of his employment, but the injury did not arise out of his employment.
On appeal, the worker argued that the trial court incorrectly decided his injuries were idiopathic, precluding an award of benefits.
Was the trial court correct in denying benefits to the worker?
A. No. There was no evidence of a pre-existing condition.
B. Yes. The worker suffered from a serious injury from a simple work activity.
C. Yes. Rising from a chair to reach for a form is a hazardous activity.
How the court ruled: A.
The Tennessee Supreme Court held that the worker was entitled to benefits. Veler v. Wackenhut Services, Inc., No. E2010-00965-WC-R3-WC (Tenn. 01/28/11).
The court explained that no evidence showed a prior condition that might have created a risk of a serious knee injury that was personal to the worker. The injuries were causally related to the performance of his job responsibilities. The worker's duties included gaining access to forms to be filled out, and his work required him to reach above his head to retrieve the forms.
The court said that the worker was entitled to medical costs. The court sent the case back to the trial court for an award of benefits.
B is incorrect. The court said although the case was unusual, the basic principle of workers' compensation is its remedial purpose. The court explained that an employee is favored when there is reasonable doubt surrounding the compensability of a claim. Absolute certainty of causation is not required.
C is incorrect. The court said that rising from a chair is not typically hazardous. The court mentioned that the circumstances were indistinguishable from an injury suffered by an employee while bending over to pick up a tool or another instrument related to work injuries.
is the legal editor of the WorkersComp Forum.
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February 24, 2011
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