Missouri Supreme Court to Interpret Workers' Compensation "Equal Exposure"
In Johme, the employee, a billing representive for St. John's, broke her pelvis when she fell while making coffee in the kitchen at work. She did not slip or fall on something on the floor. Rather, she slipped out of her sandal and fell. The Court of Appeals held that nothing about her job as a billing representative caused the fall and injury, so it did not "arise out of" her employment as required by the Missouri workers' compensation law. That decision appears to be in conflict with a decision of the Southern District Court of Appeals in the case of Pile v. Lake Regional Health System. As a result, the Missouri Supreme Court is going to be asked to resolve the conflict between the decision of the Southern District and the decision of the Eastern District.
The Missouri workers' compensation law was amended in 2005. Currently, an injury at work may not be compensable if if it came "from a hazard or risk unrelated to the employment which workers would have been equally exposed outside of and unrelated to the employment in non-employment life." (citing § 287.020.3(2)(b)). In rejecting Johme's injury as a compensable worker's compensation claim, the Eastern District in Johme said, ".. the injury here did not occur because Johme fell due to some condition of her employment. She wore sandals to work of her own accord, and there is no allegations that the floor of the kitchen area had any spills or other hazards. In short, while making coffee Johme unexpectedly slipped off her sandal, fell and injured her pelvis. Nothing about her employment as a billing representative caused the fall and injury, and we should not say it 'arose out of' her employment. Prior to the 2005 amendments, Johme's argument would have been more persuasive, but the Legislature has since raised the bar. Under the current scheme, the above stated facts simply do not meet the threshold for an award of worker's compensation."
Again, this decision is seemingly in conflict with a decision of the Southern District in Pile, where the court held that if the risk of injury is related to employment, it is compensable under the workers' compensation law, and it doesn't matter if the worker would have been equally exposed to the risk of injury in non-employment life.
This is a very important case to watch. Judge Romines, who wrote the Johme decision, said that his interpretation of the law would mean that the "personal comfort doctrine" no longer exists. If the Missouri Supreme Court agrees, this could really deal a blow to workers who are injured on a break or on their way to and from the bathroom, as those injuries would no longer be compensable workers' compensation claims. Again, this is a very important case for the Missouri Supreme Court to examine for injured workers. We will follow its progress in the courts and will report the Supreme Court's decision when it is reached.