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University employee’s spider bite compensable


A poisonous spider bite suffered by a university administrative assistant in 2018 is a compensable workers compensation injury, as the woman’s previous reports of spiders in her building proves her employer exposed her to the risk of spider bites, an appeals court in Virginia ruled on Tuesday.

When Irma Housden arrived at work at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, on Feb. 13, 2018, she saw two spiders on a counter. She killed them but was unable to catch a third spider she saw on a cabinet. Later that day, she was at her desk talking with a co-worker when she felt at least two bites on her foot, according to documents in James Madison University/Commonwealth of Virginia, v. Irma D. Housden, filed in the Court of Appeals of Virginia in Richmond.

She immediately sought emergency care and a doctor noted “significant swelling and redness on her foot,” which led the doctor to suspect a brown recluse spider bite or sting, according to documents. And based on pictures, claimant identified the spiders in her office as brown recluse spiders. She was admitted to the hospital, underwent surgery, and was discharged over a week later on Feb. 22, 2018, according to documents.

Ms. Housden filed for workers comp benefits, and an evidentiary hearing occurred later that same year, in which several university employees testified that they had also seen spiders, especially following the start of construction work in the building.

The university had a pest control specialist it had hired testify that he had “never received a complaint of spiders in (the building) before the incident and never saw a brown recluse spider anywhere on campus” and could not find proof of any such spiders following the incident, documents state.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the deputy commissioner found that “claimant failed to prove the injury arose out of her employment and denied benefits.” On review, a majority of the full Commission reversed, with a dissenting opinion writing that the “evidence was insufficient to establish a ‘critical link’ between the conditions of the workplace and claimant's injury, documents state.

The appeals court also ruled in favor of Ms. Housden, finding that it is credible that the employer was aware of spiders in the building prior to the incident and that the worker “proved her spider bite injury arose out of her employment.”










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