Case name: Murray v. Labor Commission, No. 20100580-CA (Utah Ct. App. 02/02/12).
Ruling: The Utah Court of Appeals held that a ranger was not entitled to benefits because he failed to establish causation.
What it means: In Utah, in cases involving a preexisting condition, the worker must show that his injury involved exertions or employment conditions that were "unusual or extraordinary" when compared to normal, everyday life.
Summary: A state park ranger was preparing to go on boating patrol. He bent over the edge of the boat at a 35 to 40 degree angle to undo a lock that secured a cable to the dock. An unexpected wave rocked the boat, knocking the ranger off balance. To steady himself, he adjusted his right foot, brought his right arm to the edge of the boat, and twisted his body. He was wearing a 15-pound service belt and a one-pound life jacket. He felt pain in his back that increased during the next several days. He sought workers' compensation benefits, alleging that the incident aggravated his preexisting condition. The Utah Court of Appeals held that the ranger was not entitled to benefits.
The parties did not dispute that medical causation existed but argued whether legal causation was satisfied. The court found that the ranger did not establish causation because his act of losing his balance while bending over slightly was not an "unusual or extraordinary exertion."
The court compared the ranger's situation to standing on an unsteady platform, such as an airplane, bus, or escalator, where an outside force can require some exertion to maintain or regain one's balance. Such exertions are often necessary also on solid ground when something knocks a person off balance. The court said it was also not unusual to lean over in an awkward position to accomplish some task even while burdened with additional weight. Combining the factors did not change the result.
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March 15, 2012
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