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Housekeeper’s injuries from unexplained falls compensable

Hospital housekeeper

Injuries suffered by a housekeeper after two falls on the job are compensable, the Kansas Court of Appeals held Friday.

In Johnson v. Stormont Vail Healthcare Inc., a three-judge panel of the appellate court unanimously affirmed the Kansas Workers Compensation Appeals Board ruling that though the falls were unexplained, they occurred while walking, which made up a substantial portion of the housekeeper’s job, and therefore covered by workers compensation.

Mary Johnson worked as a housekeeper at Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka, Kansas, performing tasks including cleaning patient rooms, bathrooms and waiting areas, changing sheets, carrying dirty linen, removing trash and vacuuming. In 2015, while walking down the hallway, she said she tripped and fell, but was unable to identify what had caused her foot to catch. She shattered her left kneecap in the fall and was off work for about three months. Six months after she returned to work, she fell while carrying cleaning supplies, fracturing her left wrist, but again did not know what caused her to trip.

She received workers compensation benefits after both incidents after both an administrative law judge and the Kansas Workers Compensation Appeals Board ruled that she proved her injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment even though she was unable to explain why she fell.

The hospital appealed, arguing that since the falls were unexplained, they were neutral risks and noncompensable under the Workers Compensation Act.

The Kansas Court of Appeals affirmed the board’s decision. Although the hospital argued that Ms. Johnson’s injuries arose from neutral risks or idiopathic causes, the court agreed with the board’s determination that her job required her to stand and walk the entire day, and that her injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment.

The board noted that a neutral risk barred compensability for injuries when the neutral risk had no particular employment or personal character, but found that Ms. Johnson’s need to walk to perform her job constituted employment character.

The appellate court noted that the Kansas Supreme Court has held that the idiopathic exception to state statutes renders an injury noncompensable only with proof that the injury or accident arose directly or indirectly from a medical condition or medical event.

“This language is clear. If a party wants to claim an exception, then there must be proof of that exception,” said the appellate court.

As a result, the court found that Ms. Johnson met her statutory burden and affirmed the board’s decision that her injuries were compensable.

Neither attorney in the case immediately responded to requests for comment.





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