Risky Business

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On April 5, 2019, the Florida First District Court of Appeal issued a rare en banc opinion in the case of Valcourt-Williams v. Sedgwick CMS, regarding the compensability of an accident that occurred, when an adjuster tripped over her dog while working from home.

The facts in a nutshell – the claimant had a work-from-home arrangement with her employer, Sedgwick. On the morning of April 27, 2016, and during her normal work hours, the claimant left her designated office space on the second floor of her home and went downstairs to the kitchen to make coffee. In the process, she tripped over her dog and fell, allegedly sustaining multiple injuries. The claimant sought workers’ compensation benefits from the employer, but the E/C denied compensability of the accident. A Final Hearing was held in November 2016, and the Judge of Compensation Claims ultimately found the accident was compensable because the work-from-home arrangement meant the employer “imported the work environment into the claimant’s home, and the claimant’s home into the work environment.” The E/C appealed the decision.

In the written opinion, the court clarified that the question is not whether a claimant’s “home environment” becomes her “work environment;” but instead, is whether the employment (whatever it is) “necessarily exposes a claimant to conditions which substantially contribute to the risk of injury.”

This case involved a careful analysis of the two prongs of compensability – that the accident (1) must arise out of work performed and (2) occur in the course and scope of employment. It is well settled that, in order to have a compensable accident, both prongs must be satisfied. The parties agreed that the claimant’s injuries occurred in the course and scope of her employment, but the E/C argued the claimant’s injuries did not arise out of the work performed, relying on prior case law which establishes that the “arising out of” prong requires that the risks that caused claimant’s accident and injuries be work-related.

In this case, the relevant risk was that the claimant might trip over her dog while reaching for a coffee cup in her kitchen. According to the court, this risk existed whether the claimant was at home working or at home not working. It existed before she took her job with the employer and it would still be there after her employment ended so long as she lives in a home with a dog. The employer did not contribute to the risk that the claimant would trip over her dog and, therefore, the court found the workers’ compensation law does not require the employer to cover the cost of the injury.

But, stay tuned – there may be more to come as the claimant has filed a Motion for Certification to the Florida Supreme Court. Believe it or not, some folks in the workers’ compensation industry aren’t in love with this opinion and think the court went too far in narrowly construing the “arising out of” prong.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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