Case Law Update – April 15, 2019
ACCIDENT DURING WORK-FROM-HOME ARRANGEMENT
Sedgwick CMS v. Tammitha Valcourt-Williams, No. 1D17-96 (Fla 1st DCA April 8, 2019)
In this case, the claimant was injured when she tripped over her dog while reaching for a coffee cup in her kitchen. The claimant had a work-at-home arrangement with her employer, Sedgwick, and her fall occurred during working hours. On the day of the accident, the claimant had been working 3 hours when she went downstairs for a cappuccino. As she reached to get a cup, she fell over one of her 2 dogs resulting in knee, hip and shoulder injuries. Sedgwick denied the claim, contending that the injuries did not arise out of the employment. At the Merits Hearing held by Judge W. James Condry, II, the JCC determined the injuries were compensable.
The First DCA reversed Judge Condry’s decision holding that the injuries did not arise out of work performed in the course and scope of her employment. The Court noted that the question is whether the employment — wherever it is — “necessarily exposes a claimant to conditions which substantially contribute to the risk of injury”. The Court indicated the relevant risk in this case was that the claimant might trip over her dog while reaching for a coffee cup in her kitchen. That risk exists whether the claimant is at home working or whether she is at home not working. It existed before the claimant took her job and it will exist after her employment ends (so long as she maintains a home with a dog). Because the risk did not arise out of the employment, the First DCA reversed Judge Condry’s decision.
The First DCA noted that the “arising out of” limitation “requires that the risk that caused the claimant’s accident and injuries be work related”. As a result, an accident is compensable only if “the employment necessarily exposed claimant to conditions that would substantially contribute to the risk of injury and to which the claimant would not normally be exposed during non-employment life”. The Court further noted that the employment must, in some way, contribute to an increased risk of injury caused by the employment.
The First DCA went on to state that regardless of whether the accident is a fall — or anything else — a claimant cannot prevail unless there is occupational causation, a risk not existent in the claimant’s nonemployment life.
The Court clarified that work-at-home arrangements do not provide employers with workers’compensation immunity for all accidents that occur while working at home. For example, the Court indicated that if the claimant had suffered an injury from a risk that her employment introduced, such as a repetitive stress injury from typing all day, such a case would be compensable. Work-at-home accidents can be compensable “if the injury resulted from an effort, exertion, risk, or strain beyond that which is normally encountered in claimant’s non-employment life”. The Court also points out that they are not holding that there can be no compensability unless the employee is actively working at the time of the accident. They stated that an accident on a break might still arise out of employment where the employment necessarily exposed the claimant to conditions which would substantially contribute to the risk of injury. However, the Court indicated that none of this relates to the situation in the ValcourtWilliams case. The risk at issue that the claimant would trip over her own dog in her own kitchen while reaching for a coffee cup was not a risk her employment introduced. Because the employer did not contribute to the risk that the claimant would trip over her dog, the workers’ compensation law therefore does not require the employer to cover the cost of the injury. This opinion was EN BANC meaning that all of the judges from the First DCA participated in this opinion.
The Valcourt-Williams case indicates that certain accidents that occur in the employee’s home suffered by employees who work from home may be compensable while others are not. The test is whether or not the employment contributed to the risk that caused the accident versus something that could have occurred just as easily when the claimant was not working and at home on her own free time.
Please feel free to contact any of our workers’ compensation attorneys listed below if you wish to discuss this case and its application to your claims. You may reach us at the telephone numbers or e-mail addresses listed below:
Fort Lauderdale/East Coast Office: (954) 462-4304
Walter C. Wyatt, Partner – ext. 218
Robert M. Potter, III, Partner – ext. 222
Brian G. Winger, Senior Associate – ext. 220
St. Petersburg/West Coast Office: (727) 322-1739
Joseph A. Bayliss, Partner – ext. 201
Jerome B. Blevins, Partner – ext. 205