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Worker hurt on lunch break eligible for comp

Worker hurt on lunch break eligible for comp

A worker whose chair collapsed while he was eating lunch is entitled to permanent total disability benefits, a Missouri appellate court has ruled.

David Wright was in the Roto-Rooter Services Co. lunchroom on July 21, 2011, when the chair he was sitting on collapsed, causing him to fall to the floor and injure his low back, according to court records.

He filed a claim for workers compensation benefits and a claim against Missouri's Second Injury Fund since his preexisting conditions, including diabetes and heart palpitations, also impacted his ability to work, records show.

According to the state's Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, the Second Injury Fund “is liable for permanent total disability when the combined effect of the work injury and the prior disability render the employee unemployable in the open labor market. The employer is liable only for the compensation for the most recent injury and the Second Injury Fund pays the remaining lifetime benefits.”

An administrative law judge with the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission determined that Mr. Wright was permanently and totally disabled, and that he was entitled to lifetime benefits from the Second Injury Fund, records show.

The judge noted that Mr. Wright's injury “did not come from a hazard or risk unrelated to the employment to which he would have been equally exposed to outside of and unrelated to the employment in normal non-employment life,” according to records.

The commission affirmed the judge's decision.

On appeal, the Second Injury Fund argued that Mr. Wright's injury didn't arise out of and in the course of his employment since it occurred while at lunch, even though it was on the employer's premises, records show.

A three-judge panel on Missouri's Eastern District Court of Appeals in St. Louis affirmed the commission's decision on Tuesday.

Since amendments to Missouri's workers comp law were passed in 2005, “the Missouri Supreme Court has not focused on the specific task the employee was doing at the time of the accident, but rather on the risk source of injury and whether it was one the employee was equally exposed to in his or her normal non-employment life,” according to the appellate court's ruling.

While sitting in a chair is a “generalized risk … whether that chair will collapse is dependent on the particular chair,” the ruling states.

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