Did a laborer's fall from bridge arise out of his employment?
A laborer who was diabetic and insulin dependent worked for a company that repaired bridges. Workers were resurfacing a bridge deck. The work was completed between a four-foot tall concrete barrier placed to divide the work area from traffic and an outside four-foot high guardrail placed to prevent cars from traveling off the bridge. It was disputed whether the laborer accidentally fell or jumped from the bridge. He incurred serious permanent injuries when he fell 60 feet.
The laborer had no recollection of the incident. Coworkers testified that he had not been feeling well that day and had eaten sugary snacks. Coworkers witnessed him shout a profanity, walk toward the bridge, climb over the rail and jump. But the coworkers did not believe the laborer attempted suicide.
A paramedic who reported to the scene found the laborer's blood sugar was within the normal range, but traces of cocaine and marijuana were found in his system.
The laborer sought benefits. The administrative law judge dismissed the claim because the injury did not arise out of his employment and was not part of the positional risk in which his employment placed him. The Workers' Compensation Board affirmed. The laborer appealed.
Was the judge correct in finding that the laborer was not entitled to compensation?
A. Yes. The laborer placed himself in a position of risk when he climbed over the guardrail of the bridge.
B. No. The laborer's work on the bridge placed him in a position increasing the dangerous effects of a fall.
C. No. The fall was unexplained; therefore, the laborer was entitled to benefits.
How the court ruled: A. The Kentucky Court of Appeals held that the laborer's fall was not compensable because it did not arise from his employment. Hampton v. Intech Contracting, LLC, No. 2011-CA-001195-WC (Ky. Ct. App. 11/18/11).
The court said that there was no dispute that the laborer was injured in the course of his employment. The court characterized the fall as idiopathic because the laborer was disoriented due to a hypoglycemic attack. The effects of such a fall are compensable if the employment placed the worker in a position increasing the dangerous effects of a fall. The court said that the laborer's fall was caused by his actions unrelated to his employment. Therefore, his injuries did not originate from a risk connected with his employment and did not flow from his employment as a "rational consequence."
B is incorrect. The court said that the laborer's work on the deck of the bridge did not place him in a position of risk. Although he was atop the bridge deck, he did not fall from the bridge deck.
C is incorrect. The court explained that this was not an unexplained fall case. Although it was undetermined why the laborer climbed over the bridge guardrail, the explanation for the fall was that he climbed over the rail and fell to the ground.
Editor's note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.
December 15, 2011
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