A 62-year-old maintenance man was working on a mechanism for a freezer door located in a warehouse. The floor was concrete, and the area was surrounded by metal railings and poles strong enough to protect the doors and perishable goods from forklifts. At some point, he fell on the floor and hit his head. Co-workers found him unconscious and unresponsive. He was taken to the hospital where he died.
A co-worker said the maintenance man told him he was having "equilibrium issues." The co-worker also indicated that there was no condensation on the floor, and no one knew what happened. A supervisor had spoken with the maintenance man, turned his back, and seconds later the maintenance man was on the floor.
An accident report indicated that the maintenance man fell into the doorjamb hitting the back of his head, but the co-worker who prepared the report meant that the maintenance man hit his head on the floor. Another co-worker said that the maintenance man was not working on a ladder, chair, or stool when he fell.
The maintenance man had episodes of lightheadedness and dizziness dating back 15 years. Six weeks before the fall at work, he had been diagnosed with Meniere's vertigo, which is an inner ear abnormality that could cause vertigo or a sudden, severe attack that causes a person to fall and may come with little or no warning. Hospital records showed that the maintenance man's wife indicated past vertigo and a few previous falls.
The single hearing member denied benefits, concluding that it was more likely that his personal condition caused the fall and the employment did not provide any increased risk that would transform his fall into a compensable accident. The Workers' Compensation Board agreed with the single hearing member's decision denying benefits.
Was the board correct in denying workers' compensation benefits for the maintenance man's fatal fall?
No. The maintenance man's employment placed him in working conditions that increased the effects of his fall.
No. The maintenance man suffered a work-related fall by slipping or tripping on the concrete floor.
Yes. There was insufficient evidence that the conditions in his work area increased his risk of falling or the dangerous effects of his fall.
How the court ruled: C.
The Indiana Court of Appeals held that the worker's fall was not compensable. Burdette v. Perlman-Rocque Co., No. 93A02-1007-EX-770 (Ind. Ct. App. 02/22/11).
The court said that very few falls are truly unexplained, and if the evidence supported a reasonable inference that the fall was the result of a personal condition, the fall should not be categorized as unexplained. In Indiana, a fall due to a personal condition is compensable if the employment placed the worker in a position increasing the dangerous effects of a fall.
A is incorrect. The court agreed with the board's determination that the employment did not provide any increased risk. There was no condensation on the floor and he had not been working on a ladder.
B is incorrect. The court said evidence supported a determination that the maintenance man's fall was caused by his personal condition.
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April 7, 2011
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