Earlier in our blog, we tracked a pair of workers’ compensation cases that made it to the Missouri Supreme Court. Both of those cases raised an important question in workers’ compensation law: When does an injury “arise” out of the course of employment?
As we predicted in that earlier blog post, the Missouri Supreme Court denied the victims recovery in both cases.
Missouri Supreme Court Denies Recovery for Injured Workers
The cases were Annayeva v. SAB of the TSD of the City of St. Louis and Schoen v. Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center.
In Annayeva, a high school teacher slipped on a wet, dirty, and snowy linoleum floor on her way to clock in to work for the day. In Schoen, a nurse was at the doctor for another workplace injury when she tripped over another patient’s dog and got hurt.
Both cases invoked Missouri Statute 287.020.3, which requires workplace injuries to “arise out of and in the course of employment” to be covered by workers’ compensation.
Thanks to a 2005 amendment to the law and a line of extremely demanding cases from the Missouri Supreme Court, though, workers’ compensation coverage is strictly construed. This makes it very difficult for injured workers to prove their case, even if their injuries would have fallen under the comfort doctrine.
More importantly, though, courts in Missouri have required injuries to come from risks that are unique to the workplace. As the court said in Miller v. Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission, if the injury happened because of a risk that was equally present in “normal nonemployment life,” workers’ compensation will not cover it.
As we predicted, the Missouri Supreme Court applied Miller and similar cases to Annayeva and Schoen and denied recovery to the injured workers. In Schoen, the nurse was “tripped accidentaly,” which is a risk that she was “equally exposed to outside of her employment.” In Annayeva, the victim’s “walk into school was no different from any other walk taken in her normal, nonemployment life.”
What Actions and Risks are Unique to the Workplace?
It does not take a lawyer to see the disturbing trend, here. To recover workers’ compensation, Missouri courts are requiring injured workers to get hurt by something that they do not encounter outside of the workplace.
Tripping or slipping and falling on a dangerous ground hazard, like an icy sidewalk or a slick floor is no longer compensable because we walk when we are not at work, too. Car accidents that happen on-the-job may fall outside the scope of workers’ compensation: We drive outside of work, as well. Carpel tunnel syndrome for office workers might not be a workplace injury if you write emails at home.
But the trend can become even more disturbing if courts begin to deconstruct activities into their component parts. Imagine an electrician who flips a light switch and gets electrocuted on the job. Electrocution might not be a risk that people are “equally exposed to outside of their employment,” but flipping a light switch is something that we all do in our “nonemployment lives.” Depending on how a court interprets a “risk” or an “action,” nearly anything can be made to fall outside workers’ compensation coverage in Missouri, now.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph
The personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers at the Smith Law Office legally represent injured workers in St. Joseph, Kansas City, and western Missouri. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373.