WHEN DOES AN INJURY “ARISE OUT OF AND IN THE COURSE OF EMPLOYMENT,” MAKING IT FALL UNDER THE WORKERS COMPENSATION ACT?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Moore v. Venture Corp., 51 Kan. App. 2d 132, 343 P.3d 114 (2015).
This case addresses the following issue:
When does an injury “arise out of and in the course of employment,” making it fall under the Workers Compensation Act?
Kansas, like all other states, has a workers compensation law that offers medical treatment, off work pay, and other benefits to employees that are injured at work. Id. at 119. The system is “no fault,” meaning there is no need to show that an employer did anything wrong to recover. Id. Instead, the employee must simply prove that the accident arose out of and in the course employment, and that accident was the prevailing factor in causing the employee’s injuries. Id. This case dealt with when an accident arises out of work versus out of “normal activities of day-to-day living.” Id. Ultimately, the court found that the employee’s injury arose from work, not simply walking, because the employee was engaged in walking at the location only because of his assignments from his employer. Id.
Plaintiff was working on a construction site for his employer, Defendant. Id. at 116. Plaintiff was assigned to operate a backhoe on the day in question. Id. Plaintiff exited the machine to examine the area he was digging. Id. At that point, Plaintiff saw his supervisor and began walking towards the man. Id. However, at that point, Plaintiff’s right knee “popped” and gave out. Id. Plaintiff hadn’t stepped in any hole or on anything; instead, he had just suffered a torn right meniscus and torn ACL from the normal motions of walking. Id. The work comp judge initially ruled that Plaintiff’s injury arose from normal, day-to-day activities, and was thus not covered by the work comp. Id. The Workers Compensation Appeals Board reversed, finding for Plaintiff. Id. Defendant appealed to this court. Id.
Work comp covers only injuries that “arise out of and in the course of employment.” Id. at 119. However, “an injury does not arise out of and in the course of employment if it occurred as a result of the normal activities of daily life.” Id. This doesn’t mean that simply because an injury happens while an employee is doing one of “the broad spectrum of life’s ongoing daily activities” the injury isn’t covered by work comp. Id. at 120. Instead, the correct question is whether the injury was “a consequence of an event or continuing events specific to the requirements of performing one’s job.” Id. Basically, the question is less about what exactly the employee was doing when he was injured, and more about why the employee was doing that activity at all. Id. The “overall context of what the worker was doing” determines whether an accident arises out of and in the course of employment. Id.
In this case, Plaintiff had been injured while walking, but he was only walking to travel from one work assignment (examining the hole being dug with the backhoe) to another (discussing the work with his supervisor). Id. at 122. The context of this accident clearly demonstrated that it arose out of Plaintiff’s work. Id. The court was unwilling to hold otherwise, because this would put nearly all work accidents at risk of being pushed outside of work comp. Id. After all, most work assignments are made up of normal activities such as walking, communicating, and lifting. Id. Thus, Plaintiff’s accident fell within work comp’s coverage and Defendant was required to pay for Plaintiff’s medical treatment and other benefits. Id.