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Dean Denied Worker's Comp for Injury Sustained while ‘Walking and Turning’ in College Hallway

According to an article by Insurance Journal, Mary Pat O’Brien, Dean of Nursing for the Northern Virginia Community College, was injured in a hallway at work when she allegedly fell while walking to a meeting and turning to address another colleague.

 

The colleague was speaking to O’Brien about how to get to the meeting, and as she turned to answer, “her right ‘foot got stuck,’ and she ‘fell out’ of her left shoe, into a wall and onto the floor, sustaining serious injuries. At the time of her fall, she was carrying a computer and paperwork for use at the meeting.” O’Brien then filed for workers’ compensation benefits.

 

Here are the details of the case:

 

  • “O’Brien applied for workers’ compensation benefits, alleging that she fell when she was distracted and turned, and her shoe stuck to the floor. The college defended against the claim, arguing that the accident did not arise out of O’Brien’s employment.”

  • A video of the fall was included, as well.

  • “A WCC deputy commissioner denied the claim, concluding that O’Brien failed to show that her accident and injuries arose out of her employment. The deputy commissioner found that the record ‘suggested’ that she ‘took a mis-step while engaged in the simple act of turning.’ The deputy commissioner acknowledged that O’Brien was ‘perhaps distracted’ by the colleague’s inquiry but found ‘there was no environmental condition of the claimant’s employment, when combined with the alleged distraction, that caused, or contributed to her to fall.’”

  • “The WCC acknowledged that O’Brien’s action of turning to talk to her co-worker could have been a distraction but found that doing so was not a risk of employment because turning to talk to someone is ‘ubiquitous human behavior.’ The WCC said that the distraction argument failed because it was not in concert with anything in the work environment to cause her injury. The WCC concluded that a ‘common motion,’ such as turning to talk to someone, is not a ‘risk of employment.’"

  • “The WCC also discounted O’Brien’s claim that ‘awkwardness due to holding papers and a computer under her left arm’ contributed to her fall. The WCC said there was no evidence that holding the work items was causally connected to her fall or that ‘that the fall would have been avoided or arrested had both of O’Brien’s hands been free.’”

 

Ultimately, the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled that O’Brien is not entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits.


 

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