By: Chad McDonald

As in years past, one of the most informative discussions at the seminar addressed recent Appellate Division cases. This year’s panel was led by Judge Terry Chastain, Director of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation.  Noteworthy cases featured below touched on issues of the ingress/egress rule, injuries which occur during pre-employment physicals, the continuous employment rule, and willful misconduct.

Ingress/Egress vs. Idiopathic Injury and Assessed Fees when Controvert Not Filed Timely

A secretary stumbled (but did not fall) and felt a “pop” and pain in her knee while climbing a staircase to enter her workplace at the beginning of the work day. She did not trip and there was no liquid or debris that caused the stumble, but simply stepped on the first step and twisted her knee. The employer/insurer argued that the injury was not sustained “in the course of” employment because she had not yet clocked in, and that the injury did not “arise out of” employment because she was not performing her work duties and could have injured her arthritic knee climbing steps anywhere; essentially, climbing stairs was not a hazard specific to her workplace.  The Board disagreed, holding that an employee is in the course of employment if he or she is injured while going to or coming from the workplace on the employer’s premises. The Board also found that the employee’s injury arose out of her employment because leaving an employer-owned parking lot and climbing stairs to get to her office was a “reasonable ingress” and was therefore included in the general exception of not extending the positional risk doctrine to ingress/egress cases unless the injury occurred on the premises.  Due to these reasons, the Board found the claim compensable.

Additionally, assessed fees were awarded because the controvert was filed 34 days after the injury and not within the 21-day requirement when initial medical treatment is not provided.  This case is a good reminder that pursuant to O.C.G.A. 34-9-221(d), controverts need to be filed within 21 days after knowledge of the alleged accident, or within 81 days of knowledge if benefits are initially provided.

Injury During Pre-Employment Physical: Not Compensable if Not Yet an Employee

An EMT received an offer of employment that required the worker to pass a pre-employment physical agility test. The worker suffered a broken ankle during the test, and filed a claim for benefits alleging that she was an employee on the day of the test. The employer argued that the offer letter, signed by the worker, showed that the worker’s actual start date would be weeks after the date of the pre-employment physical and was contingent upon the worker passing the physical agility test and other steps in pre-employment screening. The Board agreed that the worker was not an employee at the time of the pre-employment test, relying in part on the fact that the employer was explicit on the “hire date” and had the individual sign a waiver form.The claim was therefore not compensable.

Continuous Employment: Injury Doing Laundry at Hotel

The employee was staying in a hotel and scheduled to attend work-related
training the following day when he was injured in a fall while doing laundry at
the hotel. The employee was not required to stay at the hotel, but he would
have had to travel in excess of four hours a day to attend the five-day
training if he did not stay there. Because the employee was washing clothes for
an evening activity with co-workers, the employer deemed the accident to be
unrelated to the employee’s work duties and denied benefits. The employee
argued that the act of doing laundry is necessary to the employee’s health and
comfort and therefore incident to work required by his employment. On the basis
of the continuous employment doctrine, the Board found that the employee’s
actions arose out of and in the course of his employment and the case was
deemed compensable. 

Willful Misconduct: Multiple Trainings and Documentation by Employer Key in Determining Injury was Result of Willful Misconduct

In this case, an employee placed his hand in an industrial machine to clean it, but did not follow procedures to turn off the machine and keep it off while cleaning it. The employee’s hand was injured when the machine restarted. The employer cited 25 training documents signed by the employee in the two-month period before the incident to show that the employee knew the procedures for shutting down the machine before placing his hand inside of it, as well as the dangers of placing his hand in a running machine. Accordingly, the Board denied the employee’s claim for benefits, finding that the employee’s action in placing his arm in the machine was intentional, deliberate, done with the knowledge that the action would likely result in injury, and done with a reckless disregard of the probable consequences of doing so.