Friday, February 10, 2017

Inability to explain how an accident occurred did not preclude an award of benefits

Conagra Foods v Jon Phillips
2017 MO App. Lexis 882
Sept. 5, 2017

The court of appeals affirmed an award appealed by the employer  which challenged claimant's credibility based on an idiopathic fall defense, an evolving medical history and a failure to show an occupational risk.

The court deferred to the Commission's finding of credibility despite inconsistent medical histories of a work-related injury that was not fully realized until claimant obtained a rating report. The opinion included a  detailed analysis about the sources and brevity of earlier medical histories.  Claimant established a unique occupational risk by a combination of distinct elements:  he was injured while traversing an unguarded incline with steel-toed boots and then falling from that unguarded incline.

The court noted the failure of the employer not to affirmatively plead idiopathic cause as an affirmative defense did not waive the defense as the employer denied all allegations and raised the issue before the ALJ that the fall was idiopathic and not work related.  The employer asserted claimant's previous impairment to his leg which had been broken in four places before was the more  likely risk source for the fall.

Phillips v ConAgra
2017 MOWCLR Lexis 15
Feb. 7, 2017

The Commission affirmed a finding that claimant's accident arose out of an in the course of employment.

Claimant fell off of a ramp while going into a break room and broke his hip.  He filed a claim that he slipped and fell but his medical records fail to identify a cause for his injury and that he did not identify why he fell.  

The commission deferred to the ALJ's finding of credibility that claimant had an accident.  Claimant identified an occupational hazard of walking on  "a three to five-inch graded ramp without a guard rail while wearing steel-toed shoes in order to access a designated break area. We find that employer's unguarded ramp constituted a risk source not encountered in employee's everyday life" despite inconsistencies in his medical history and earlier versions that he could not explain why he fell.  Claimant was entitled to benefits despite an "inability to explain why an accident occurred". 

The employer offered no expert opinion to identify idiopathic medical conditions caused claimant to fall at the time.

The Commission affirmed an award of 22.5% for a hip fracture and denied a motion for costs.