A recent workers’ compensation case highlights how fact-intensive these claims can be. In this case, the particular issue was whether an employee was within the scope of her employment while she walked from the parking garage to her workstation. In the end, the result hinged on whether her wheeled suitcase was employment-related or not.
Hospital Chemist Falls in Parking Lot
The incident happened on July 13, 2016. A 68-year-old chemist at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri was walking from her car, out the parking garage’s exit, and towards the hospital to begin her shift. Because of hip and leg problems that were so severe her doctor said she was at risk of falling, the chemist was pulling a wheeled cart into work with her.
Approaching the exit door in the parking garage, another hospital worker held the door open. Other people near the exit door caused the chemist to turn as soon as she passed through the doorway. Her wheeled cart caught on the side of the doorframe and she was unable to stop from falling to the ground. The force of the fall fractured her left wrist.
The chemist filed a workers’ compensation claim with the hospital, but the claim was denied.
Scope of Employment Laws and a Worker’s Belongings
The Missouri legislature has been active in passing business friendly laws that reduce a hurt worker’s ability to recover workers’ compensation for workplace injuries. One of these laws is Missouri Statute § 287.020.3, which deals with whether an injury falls within the “scope of employment.” If an injury happens outside the scope of employment, the hurt worker cannot recover anything through workers’ compensation.
An important part of this law is that the injury “not come from a hazard or risk unrelated to the employment to which workers would have been equally exposed outside of and unrelated to the employment in normal nonemployment life.” If the danger that caused the workplace accident and injury was connected to the injured worker’s job, then workers’ compensation would cover their injuries. If the risk was equally present to the worker off the job site, or if the risk was caused by one of the worker’s personal belongings, then workers’ compensation would not cover the incident.
Contents of Suitcase Impacts Workers’ Compensation Coverage
Because the danger that caused the hospital chemist to fall and break her wrist was her wheeled suitcase, the question then became whether that cart was a “personal apparatus” or related to the chemist’s job function.
To answer this question, the administrative law judges that ruled on the case looked to what was in the suitcase and how the chemist used it. In the end, the judges found that it was a work-related case, pointing to the following four factors:
- The worker only used it bring materials to and from work
- The worker’s lunch was in the suitcase, which she only brought to work because her 30-minute lunch break did not give her time to go to the hospital’s cafeteria
- Other contents in the suitcase included paperwork necessary for the worker to do her job
- Use of the cart was even suggested by the worker’s supervisor
These factors led the judges to rule that the accident was, in fact, work related. As a result, the hurt chemist was able to recover nearly $58,000 in compensation for medical expenses and lost income.
Missouri Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
Workers’ compensation claims are often just as fact-intensive as this one. Having a workers’ compensation and personal injury attorney conduct their own investigation into the circumstances surrounding the workplace injury can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case.