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Lack of 'wet floor' sign entitles New Mexico nurse to higher disability benefits

Lack of 'wet floor' sign entitles New Mexico nurse to higher disability benefits

A New Mexico nurse who was injured when she fell on the job is entitled to an increase in disability benefits because her employer failed post a “wet floor” sign, the state Supreme Court ruled.

Sara L. Benavides worked for Eastern New Mexico Medical Center as a registered nurse in 2006 when she slipped and fell on a wet floor, according to court records. She suffered compensable injuries to her right leg and hip, lower back, and neck.

Ms. Benavides received temporary total disability benefits of $585.89 per week, which is the maximum rate for a 2006 injury, records show.

In 2011, Eastern New Mexico Medical Center filed a complaint seeking a determination of permanent partial disability benefits and maximum medical improvement, according to records. As a result, Ms. Benavides filed a counterclaim requesting a 10% increase in benefits due to the fact that the medical center failed to supply a safety device in the form of a “wet floor” sign.

New Mexico workers comp law states that a worker may be entitled to a 10% increase in benefits if his or her employer “failed to provide a safety device and that failure resulted in the accident or increased the severity of injury.” Ms. Benavides argued that a “wet floor” sign is a safety device “because its purpose is to warn of a potential danger or hazard,” but the medical center argued that “signs promote safety, which is different from an actual safety device, such as a machine guard,” records show.

A workers comp judge found that “wet floor” signs are safety devices and that Eastern New Mexico Medical Center failed to post the signs where Ms. Benavides slipped and fell, according to records. However, the judge concluded that, because the medical center made the signs available its janitorial staff, it “provided all safety devices which were appropriate.”

On appeal, the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld the judge's opinion in March 2013.

On Thursday, the New Mexico Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's decision, ruling that Ms. Benavides is entitled to a 10% increase in benefits. The court found that Ms. Benavides' injuries resulted from the negligence of Eastern New Mexico Medical Center “in failing to supply reasonable safety devices in general use.”

A safety device is something tangible or concrete that “will lessen danger or secure safety,” according to the ruling. “Wet floor” signs alert workers to a slippery floor, “just as eye goggles protect a worker from the specific danger of flying particles and a gas indicator warns workers of the specific danger of harmful gasses.”

The ruling states that employers need to ensure safety devices are “properly employed to avoid accidents,” and that it's not enough to make “wet floor” signs available to custodians.

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