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An appeals court in Virginia on Tuesday ruled that a police officer’s slip on wet grass was not compensable, confirming an earlier ruling that deemed her injury as the cause of an “Act of God” in accordance with state workers compensation law.
Shannon Conner, a former corporal for the City of Danville Police Department, appealed the decision of the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission, which denied workers comp benefits for injuries she sustained when she slipped on wet grass and almost fell while seeking shelter from a storm, according to documents in Shannon Connor v. City of Danville filed in the Court of Appeals of Virginia, in Alexandria, Virginia.
Ms. Conner was on duty in early 2016, interviewing a homicide suspect on a porch of a vacant duplex when the weather changed quickly. She stated that "it started raining really hard" and "the wind started picking up a great deal" and that it began hailing, and that "it was a tornado moving through." She stated in her earlier deposition that, because of the change in the weather, they decided to leave the porch and move the interview to the other side of the residence, which is when she, running, “almost fell,” according to court documents.
Ms. Conner testified that as the day continued, her knee became painful, and she reported her injury to her supervisor. She sought medical treatment later that day and eventually learned, through her continued treatment, that three discs in her back had apparently been affected by her near fall and that there was "a pinched nerve involved." She underwent back surgery on July 14, 2016. On Oct. 17, 2016, one of Ms. Conner's physicians informed her that, even though her condition may improve, “she would not be able to perform all of the necessary duties of her position. She separated from the police department on November 30, 2016, and subsequently found work with a different employer,” records state.
The state workers compensation deputy commissioner issued an opinion later, denying Ms. Conner benefits because her “injuries did not arise out of her employment… there was no evidence that the claimant was working at a location where her risk of exposure to the tornado was enhanced" and that Ms. Conner "was simply trying to get further out of the weather and in so doing, she slipped on the wet grass," records state.
The deputy commissioner concluded that the "claim of compensability based upon having been exposed to this act of God is denied." On appeal, the full state Commission — with one dissenter — agreed with the deputy commissioner in that state law did not provide this to be a work-related injury, records state.
The dissenting commission wrote in his opinion that Ms. Conner should be awarded benefits because “falling on wet grass to get out of a rainstorm” was a risk of Conner's employment. He stated that the "risk of severe weather is an actual risk of the employment" for police officers because police officers "cannot enter a private building or home to seek shelter from the weather without an invitation, probable cause, or a search warrant,” records state.
Meanwhile, the appellate court agreed with the full commission, adding that Ms. Conner was not chasing a suspect at the time of her near fall, that she left the porch to better avoid the rain, and failed to prove her run through wet grass was in the scope of her employment.
The city and attorneys involved could not immediately be reached for comment.
An appellate court in Tennessee on Tuesday ruled that a police officer’s post-traumatic stress disorder is not subject to injured-on-duty benefits, affirming an earlier decision that found the alleged cause of his mental injury not outside of the scope of his job duties following a fatal shooting.