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The Supreme Court of Oregon on Thursday remanded back to the state’s Workers Compensation Board their denial of workers compensation benefits to a woman who suffered an unexplained fall while walking through the lobby of her building.
Catherine Sheldon argued that she suffered a compensable injury that arose out of employment when she fell and fractured her shoulder while walking to her office at U.S. Bank, which argued “that the injury was not unexplained because claimant failed to eliminate idiopathic factors related to her personal medical conditions that might have caused her fall,” according to documents in In the Matter of the Compensation of Catherine A. Sheldon, Catherine A. Sheldon, v. U.S. BANK, filed in Salem, Oregon.
The board, whose decision was affirmed by an administrative law judge, yet overturned by state Court of Appeals, agreed with U.S. Bank in its finding that Ms. Shelden failed to prove that other factors — her obesity or her diabetes that can cause neuropathic numbing in limbs, as possibilities cited in court arguments — caused her fall. An administrative law judge “upheld the denial on the ground that the lobby was not under the employer's control, and that claimant's injury therefore had not occurred within the course of her employment,” according to documents.
Ms. Sheldon, uncertain of what caused her fall while on work hours, testified that other factors that could have caused her accident, including a small lip in the tile of the flooring in the lobby that caught her foot, according to documents.
Her longtime doctor “noted that claimant has no history of peripheral neuropathy and opined that claimant's diabetes played ‘absolutely no role’ in her fall,” documents state.
Thursday’s decision, taking into account a similar case in which a claimant eliminated idiopathic causes and was thus compensated, affirmed the Court of Appeals decision. The highest court ruled that the board failed to apply the correct legal standard on what it deemed an idiopathic injury unrelated to work, per Oregon law, and remanded the case back to the board.
“To determine that a fall is unexplained, the board must find that there is no nonspeculative explanation for the fall,” the ruling states. “Based on the record before us, it appears that the board did not apply that legal standard, which is needed to determine whether claimant's injury arose out of her employment.”
The plaintiff’s lawyer Jerry Keene, of the Oregon Workers' Compensation Institute LLC in Oceanside, Oregon, wrote in an email to Business Insurance that the decision may have confused the issue further, as it is now back at the lower court level.
“The Supreme Court introduced concepts that may well raise more questions than they answer,” he wrote. “In particular, we anticipate that more appellate decisions will be required to flesh out what it means to establish or eliminate ‘nonspeculative’ potential causes for an otherwise unexplained fall.”
The company and defendant’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Supreme Court of Iowa ruled Friday that a brain injury suffered by a supervisor who had a seizure and fell backward on a ceramic tile floor while working as the cashier at a Long John Silver’s restaurant could be compensable, and ordered that the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commission reconsider.