You Be the Judge

Is Off-Premises Trip-and-Fall Covered by Comp?

Compensability is in question when a worker is injured while crossing the street returning to work.
By: | April 7, 2014

A county was building a new office building. A supervisor asked two workers if they wanted to go to the new building to see the workstations because the countertops were being installed. The workers were to determine whether they liked the countertops and whether they had any questions.

They walked across the street to the new building while they were “on the clock.” The street had cracks in the pavement, and it was a busy street. One of the workers was watching for vehicles, so she was not looking at the pavement. As they crossed the street on their way back to the old office building, the worker tripped and fell, injuring her shoulder. The worker was not prone to falls and did not suffer from conditions that might cause her to fall. She underwent surgery on her rotator cuff.

The worker sought workers’ compensation benefits. The administrative law judge awarded compensation, finding that the worker’s injury arose out of and in the course of her employment. The Labor and Industrial Relations Commission adopted the ALJ’s award.

The county appealed.

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The court found there was a causal connection between the work activity and the accident because her supervisor asked her to cross the street to look at the new workstations.

Although the county asserted that the worker was on a break at the time of the accident, the worker testified that she was “on the clock” when the accident occurred. The supervisor requested that she make the trip across the street during working hours. The injury occurred during the period of employment. The court noted that she was not on her way to work or going home from work. The court concluded that the injury arose out of and in the course of her employment.

How the court ruled: B. The Missouri Court of Appeals held that a worker’s injury arose out of and in the course of her employment and was compensable. Dorris v. Stoddard County, No. SD32830 (Mo. Ct. App. 01/31/14).

A is incorrect. The court explained that the workers’ compensation law did not require the worker to testify to the exact cause of her fall. Based on the testimony that there were cracks in the street, the worker did not suffer from conditions that might cause her to fall for any other reason, and photographs showing the cracks in the street, the court found it was reasonable for the commission to infer that she tripped on a crack in the street.

C is incorrect. The court explained that there was evidence of a hazardous condition in the surface of the street, and the worker’s fall occurred while she was completing a work-related task. She was exposed to the cracks in the street because of her employment. The court found no evidence that she had any exposure to that particular hazard during her nonemployment life.

Editor’s note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.

Christina Lumbreras is a Legal Editor for Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

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