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What Do You Think: Can Injured Grocery Manager Collect Benefits for Unexplained Tumble?

15 Aug, 2023 Chris Parker

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Parker, CO (–To obtain workers’ compensation benefits, an employee must show that his injury arose out of his employment.

But what happens when an employee falls while working and injures himself, and there’s no clear explanation for the fall? A case involving an assistant manager for a Colorado grocery store addresses that issue.

The manager was walking in the back area of the store carrying cardboard to a cardboard baler. While walking, he felt a "pop" in his right knee and fell to the ground and tore his knee.

There was ultimately no explanation for what caused the manager to fall and injure himself. At the time, there were no liquids, debris, or obstructions in the area. Also, he had no preexisting knee injury.

The grocery store chain argued that the manager wasn’t entitled to workers’ compensation benefits because the injury was unexplained and therefore did not arise out of his employment.

The court explained that all risks that cause injury to employees can be placed within three categories: 1) employment risks; 2) personal risks; and 3) neutral risks (which are neither employment related nor personal).

An unexplained fall constitutes a neutral risk. To show such an injury arose out of employment, the employee must demonstrate that the injury:

--> Had its origin in his work-related functions; and
--> Is sufficiently related to those functions to be considered part of employment.

Did the injury arise out of employment?
A. No. An unexplained injury can never be compensable.
B. Yes. It would not have occurred but for the manager’s job.

If you chose B you sided with the appeals court in King Soopers, Inc. v. Waters, No. 22CA1745 (Colo. Ct. App. 08/03/23), which affirmed an ALJ’s decision that the manager sustained a compensable injury to his right knee.

The court observed that but for the manager’s employment, the manager would not have been walking when and where he was walking when the injury occurred.

The court pointed out that this was not a preexisting injury and did not fall into the category of personal risks. Under the circumstances, “requiring more precision from the employee, when an ALJ has specifically found that the cause of the harm was not pre-existing and truly unexplained, is inconsistent with the spirit of the Act,” the court wrote.

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