A social worker for a school was walking through the main office when she fell as she entered the copy room. At the threshold of the room, the smooth tile surface met a carpeted area. A metal threshold that was slightly raised connected the tile surface to the carpet. A coworker said the tile floor was a little cracked right before the threshold, but there was no gap between the threshold and the floor.
The worker said the area was well-lit and she previously crossed the threshold without tripping. She suggested that she may have been distracted by someone using the copier when she fell.
The worker sought benefits. The Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission denied benefits, finding that she did not show that her accident arose out of her employment. The commission noted that although there was an indentation on the floor, it was very small and on the far left side of the doorway. That meant it was not in the area where the worker would have stepped on the threshold. The worker appealed.
Was the commission
correct in denying compensation?
A. No. The worker's fall was compensable because it occurred at her place of employment.
B. Yes. There was nothing unusual about the walking surface, so the worker's fall did not arise out of her employment.
C. No. The worker tripped over the metal threshold, which was a hazard to her employment.
How the court ruled: B. In an unpublished decision, the Virginia Court of Appeals held that the commission correctly found the worker's tripping accident did not arise out of her employment. Jennings v. Richmond Public Schools, No. 2497-11-2 (Va. Ct. App. 06/26/12, unpublished).
The court said that the actual risk doctrine excludes an injury that comes from a hazard to which the worker would have been equally exposed apart from the employment. The causative danger must be peculiar to the work and not common to the neighborhood. In a tripping accident, if there is nothing unusual about or wrong with the walking surface, a worker tripping over it cannot show the accident arose out of her employment.
The court pointed out that the commission found that the worker did not trip over the indentation in the floor and there was no evidence suggesting that the metal threshold was "unusual or defective."
There was also no evidence that the worker was exposed to a heightened risk of injury as a result of her employment, such as a requirement to hurry or engage in an employment task that would make it more likely that she would trip over the threshold.
A is incorrect. The court explained that not all injuries occurring at work are compensable. A tripping accident arises out of employment when the evidence shows that there is a tripping hazard or danger peculiar to the work site.
C is incorrect. The court explained that the threshold appeared to be an ordinary, non-defective metal strip separating the tile floor from the carpet. The court said that to the extent tripping over an ordinary threshold could be called a hazard it was not peculiar to her employment.
Editor's note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.
August 2, 2012
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