The Commission rejected a defense from the Second Injury Fund that claimant was "not working" in the employer's lunch room when his chair collapsed. The Commission finds an accident compensable even though the worker is not "actively working" under the extended premises doctrine when the injury producing accident occurs on premises owned and controlled by the employer and the worker is in a place where he is allowed by custom or approval. The Commission noted proof a defective chair owned by the employer identified the risk source of a claimant's injury, that is, identification of the activity that caused the injury, and there was no evidence of similar risk source to normal non-employment life. The Commission declines to "carve out artificial islands of non-compensability at the workplace, which islands have indistinct geographic and temporal boundaries. We deem such an approach impractical, inconsistent with the purposes of the Workers' Compensation Law." The Commission finds the collapsing chair a "hazard present in the workplace." The ALJ concluded claimant was likely working because most of his lunches were working lunches.
The worker sat in a chair in the employer's lunch room, the chair broke, and he hurt his back. The employer settled the case, and the commission affirmed an award of permanent and total disability benefits against the second injury fund. There was no dispute about medical causation.
The worker had just returned to work only about 2 months after he was released from a prior surgery at L4-5 for chronic back pain and left sciatica. While sitting in the lunch room the back leg of his chair bowed out and he collapsed. He ultimately had surgery including fusion at the same disc level for new right leg symptoms. Claimant's vocational expert indicated back pain that caused a need to rest "at will" rendered him unemployable. His medical expert found substantial pre-existing conditions. The ALJ found claimant's prior conditions and re-injury to his back rendered him unemployable. The employer settled the case. The record does not identify any medical expert opinion offered by the Fund to defend the claim.
The Fund argued that claimant's weight could cause a chair to collapse so he failed to show occupational hazard because he was equally exposed to collapsing chairs away from work.
The ALJ rejected this argument:"They suggest that because of his weight, and in the absence of proof that the chair was defective, his Claim must fail. Again, I disagree. I find no evidence in the record to suggest that Claimant's weight resulted in other chairs outside of work, or any other chairs for that matter, to collapse on him. Certainly, there were other chairs that Employer provided to Claimant, at his desk for instance, that were not shown to collapse when he sat in them." The ALJ also noted the Fund relied upon meaningless impeachment if the chair fell before or after his buttocks hit the seat.
The Fund offers no evidence regarding any risk to the same chair in a non-occupational capacity.
Section 287.020.3(2)(b) allows no statutory defense without proof of risk from the same source. This leads to an absurd result that the legislature intended to create a defense which was impossible to assert. A better understanding of what the courts are doing by this interpretation is that
employer owes the claim because the employer controlled its own exposure to risk when it bought and provided the chair to employees.
The non-occupational v occupational comparisons in 287.020.3(2)(b) defenses have been a source of a lot of litigation and denial of benefits.
Young v Boone Electric Cooperative, 2015 Mo App. Lexis 407 (April 14, 2015), involved litigation over tripping over a clod of dirt. Eberhard v G4S/Walkenhut, 2015 Mo WCLR Lexis 1 explored of the hazards of whiplash from falling toilets dispensers.