It Happened At Work…Why Isn’t It A Workers’ Compensation Claim?

Most people assume that any injury that occurs at work always results in a compensable workers’ compensation claim. While that’s true the overwhelming majority of the time, it isn’t always the case in Ohio.  As Ohio’s Second Appellate District Court noted last week in White v. Buehrer, 2nd Dist. Montgomery No. 27295, 2017-Ohio-8254, one exception to the general rule is in the case of an unexplained fall.

In White, the employee fell as she walked through an exam room to deliver mail and broke her right hip. She filed a claim for workers’ compensation.  In the administrative proceedings, White presented her own testimony that the exam room floor had been “tacky,” causing her to fall. Her employer presented the testimony of a co-worker who stated that the floor had not been tacky or otherwise hazardous. The Ohio Industrial Commission denied White’s claim and she appealed to common pleas court.

White filed a motion for summary judgment and asserted that: 1) there was no question that her injury occurred at work; 2) that the injury was “explained” by a workplace condition, citing her affidavit that her foot “caught on the floor,”; and 3) that none of the exceptions to compensation for an “on premises, explained injury” (horseplay, intoxication, and idiopathic conditions) applied.

The trial court granted the motion. The Second Appellate District reversed, citing Waller v. Mayfield, 37 Ohio St.3d 118, 524 N.E.2d 458 (1988).  In Waller, the claimant fell while descending stairs at his place of employment, and there was no question or evidence of any specific hazard, such as water, oil, or other foreign substance, on the stairs at the time of his fall.

In Waller the Supreme Court held that, in unexplained fall cases, the worker has the burden of eliminating idiopathic causes. Where idiopathic causes for an unexplained fall have been eliminated, an inference arises that the fall was traceable to some, albeit unidentified, workplace risk.

In White, the 2nd District Court noted that some of White’s medical records suggested that an idiopathic factor or factors may have contributed to her fall. The Court held that because the cause of the fall was not clear, White bore the burden of eliminating idiopathic conditions as the cause.  Finding that White had failed to do so, the Court denied the motion for summary judgment and remanded the case to the trial court.


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