Court Looks at Totality of Circumstances and Determines Accident did not Arise out of or in the Course of Employment
On September 14, 2012, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released its opinion in McDuffie v. Medical Center Enterprise. Nancy McDuffie worked as a Patient Care Attendant at Medical Center Enterprise (MCE). Additionally, McDuffie attended Wallace Community College, where she was pursuing her nursing degree. As part of her course of study, McDuffie participated in clinicals at MCE under the supervision of a Wallace instructor.
On March 12, 2010, McDuffie clocked out from her job as a Patient Care Attendant at MCE, and reported to the lobby to meet her Wallace nursing instructor to begin clinicals. McDuffie realized she forgot her notebook in her car and secured permission from her instructor to retrieve it. On her way to her car, McDuffie walked down the same flight of stairs she always used to leave the hospital after work. McDuffie fell down the stairs, and broke her arm. McDuffie was not sure whether she slipped, tripped, or just fell for some other unknown reason. She then sued MCE for workers’ compensation benefits. MCE filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, asserting that McDuffie’s injury did not arise out of her employment, but instead arose out of her participation in the nursing program at Wallace. Additionally, MCE asserted that McDuffie could not explain what caused her to fall, and that her injuries were therefore idiopathic in nature. McDuffie contended that MCE owed workers’ compensation benefits because she fell on her employer’s premises while leaving work. The trial Court ruled in favor of MCE, and McDuffie appealed.
The Court of Appeals acknowledged that in certain limited circumstances, an injury may still "arise out of" the employment when the employee sustains the injury when he or she is leaving the employer’s premises after work. Specifically, the appellate Court noted that an aneurysm sustained while an employee was taking a cold shower after a brisk walk out of the employer’s building was found compensable; as was an injury sustained by an employee who was struck by a car while crossing the street after leaving work. The Court also cited a case where an employee’s injuries from a fall he sustained when he climbed over his employer’s fence to retrieve his tools after work hours were compensable. However, the Court also noted that, in order to be compensable, the employee must show that the employment was the "source and cause" of the accident. The Court stated that there were many factors which must be considered when determining whether an activity arises out of the employment in such situations, including (1) the customary nature of the activity, (2) the employer’s encouragement or subsidization of the activity, (3) the extent to which the employer directed the activity, (4) the presence of pressure upon the employee to participate in the activity, and (5) whether the employer receives a benefit from the activity. The Court noted that none of these factors alone were necessarily determinative, and that the trial Court should evaluate each of these factors and their relative significance in relation to the employment. The Court noted that MCE did not contribute toward McDuffie’s education, did not direct the manner in which she obtained that education, and did not benefit from McDuffie’s participation in clinicals. As such, the Court of Appeals found that McDuffie’s injuries arose out of her pursuit of her education, and not her employment, and affirmed the trial Court’s decision.
MY TWO CENTS
It was unnecessary for the Court to address MCE’s argument that the injury was idiopathic in nature. However, unless there was evidence in the record that the employee’s job was somehow the source and cause of her fall (i.e. tripping over on object, slipping on a slippery substance, etc.), MCE would have likely prevailed on that argument as well.