Worker fails to persuade court to adopt positional risk doctrine
Case name: Fetzer v. North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance, No. 20110251 (N.D. 04/10/12).
Ruling: The North Dakota Supreme Court held that a worker was not entitled to benefits for the injuries she sustained from an unexplained fall at work.
means: In North Dakota, the positional risk doctrine is not applicable to workers' compensation cases because it is inconsistent with a statute that requires workers to prove a causal connection between their employment and injury.
Summary: While walking down a hallway at work, a worker thought she heard someone call her name. She started to turn around but caught her foot and fell. She fractured her left hip and wrist. The floor was even and had no obstructions, slippery spills, fraying, or rips in the carpet. The worker sought workers' compensation benefits. The North Dakota Supreme Court held that the worker was not entitled to benefits.
The parties agreed that the fall was unexplained and "not attributable to a risk personal" to the worker. The worker argued that her injury was compensable under the positional risk doctrine, which requires the employer to bear the risk of loss when a worker sustains an unexplained fall at work. The employer countered that a worker who endures an unexplained fall at work does not automatically satisfy the "arising out of" element just because the fall happened at work. The court examined the legislative history of the workers' compensation statute and concluded that the legislature intended for workers to prove more than that they merely suffered an injury at work to receive compensation.
The court concluded that the positional risk doctrine directly contravened the language of the statute and the legislature's intent. Therefore, the doctrine did not apply. The worker did not show a causal connection between her fall and her employment, so she was denied compensation.
A dissenting judge would adopt the positional risk doctrine, noting that many jurisdictions adopted the doctrine in unexplained fall cases.
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June 11, 2012
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