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What Do You Think: Can Waffle House Cook Burned by Manager’s Back ‘Popping’ Get Medical Benefits? 

15 Oct, 2023 Chris Parker

question mark 2492009 640
                               

Tallahassee, FL ((WorkersCompensation.com) – An injury that occurs in the course and scope of employment is generally compensable. But what if it occurs at work, during work hours, but the immediate cause is not a work task? 

That was the question in a case involving a grill cook for Waffle House who was working a 17-hour shift when he began having back pain. At the end of his shift, his manager offered to help by “popping” his back. The manager told him to clasp his hands behind his head. Then he pulled down on the cook’s elbows.  

Afterward, the cook felt no immediate pain and went straight home. Later that day, he could not stand up straight and had pain running down his leg. He tried to return to work that evening, but he had to leave after two hours. 

A doctor diagnosed the cook with lumbar radiculopathy and concluded that the back manipulation caused the injury. 

The Judge of Compensation Claims awarded the cook workers’ compensation medical benefits. The Judge reasoned that the injury occurred within the course and scope of the cook’s employment because the cook was on work premises during his shift while reasonably fulfilling his duties by receiving pain relief assistance from a manager. 

To be compensable under the Workers' Compensation Law, an employee must suffer an accidental compensable injury arising out of work performed in the course and scope of employment. § 440.09(1), Fla. Stat. (2018). 

Was the cook’s claim compensable?
A. Yes. It occurred at work while the cook was performing his job duties.
B. No. The injury did not flow out of his job duties, but out of the cook’s decision to have his back manipulated. 

If you selected B, you agreed with the court in East Coast Waffles, Inc. v. Haselden, No. 1D21-3745 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 10/04/23), which held that the cook failed to demonstrate that his back injury was causally related to his work. 

The court noted that for an injury to arise out of and in the course of employment, one of the following must be true: 

(1) There must be some causal connection between the injury and the employment; or 
(2) The injury must have had its origin in some risk incident to or connected with the employment or that it flowed from it as a natural consequence. 

Here, the cook failed to establish that any injuries he suffered from the back manipulation were caused by the work he performed for Waffle House.  

“This is because chapter 440 does not cover workplace injuries; it covers work-caused injuries,” the court wrote. A worker can’t show causation merely be showing that, but for being at work, he would not have incurred the injury.  

The worker must show that the injury flowed from employment as a natural consequence, the court added. Further, the injury must result from an employer-provided risk. In this case, the cook’s injury flowed instead from the fact that he allowed his manager, who was not a chiropractor and who had no medical training, to manipulate his back at the end of his workday. 

The court set aside the JCC's order awarding benefits to and authorizing medical care. 

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