Representative falls short of proving compensability while making coffee
Case name: Johme v. St. John's Mercy Healthcare, No. ED96497 (Mo. Ct. App. 10/25/11).
Ruling: The Missouri Court of Appeals held that a representative was not entitled to benefits for injuries she sustained when she slipped while making coffee in the office kitchen.
What it means: In Missouri, an injury arises out of and in the course of employment if the accident is the prevailing factor in causing the injury and it does not come from a hazard or risk unrelated to the employment to which workers would have been equally exposed outside of employment.
Summary: A billing representative left her cubicle and went to the kitchen area of the office. She began making coffee, turned, and slipped off the side of her sandal, causing her to fall onto her side and then to her back. She claimed she sustained injuries to her right hip. The floor did not have any irregularities or hazards. A report prepared by the representative's supervisor stated that she twisted her ankle. The representative sought disability benefits and medical expenses. The Missouri Court of Appeals held that she was not entitled to compensation.
The court found that the accident did not arise out of and occur during the course and scope of her employment. The only risk involved was making coffee, which was a normal kitchen activity. Although the representative explained that the office culture dictated that the last person to pour a cup of coffee should make a new pot, this was not sufficient to establish that the injury was a function of her employment. Also, the injury did not occur because she fell due to a condition of her employment.
The court also held that the personal comfort doctrine did not apply because it contradicted the legislature's instructions for construing the workers' compensation statutes. The court noted that the legislature sought to make it more difficult to obtain benefits, and the doctrine was not consistent with the purpose.
A judge who concurred in the result pointed out that the majority failed to mention that the representative was emptying the grinds from a large commercial coffeemaker when she fell. The judge pointed out that a normal worker's kitchen would not contain such a coffeemaker.
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December 8, 2011
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