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Fall from an Unknown Cause; Compensable or Not?

by | Feb 22, 2017 | Firm News, First DCA, Workers' Compensation

Imagine two identical situations where two workers are each walking,  fall, and sustain an injury. Let’s call these two individuals worker A and worker B. Each worker suffered the fall from an unknown cause. A fall from an unknown cause is generally one where the injured worker cannot identify if he or she tripped or stumbled, etc.  Worker A has no prior medical history that would explain the fall. Worker B suffered from syncope twice in the past. Which one is covered? One, or both? Well, according to the holding of Wendell v. Enterprise, which was per curiam affirmed by the 1st DCA this week, only worker A’s injury would be covered by workers’ compensation. Worker B would be out of luck for Florida workers’ compensation coverage.  In Wendell, the injured worker suffered from prior falling episodes, and the medical evidence did not reveal her employment was the major contributing cause of her fall. At the hearing, the claimant’s attorney unsuccessfully argued the employer/carrier carries the burden of establishing some other condition caused the fall. The judge ultimately held the burden rests solely on the claimant when there is evidence of competing causes for a fall.

The JCC listed the following relevant case law addressing this issue:

In Caputo v. ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, 93 So. 3d 1097 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012), the court found that the employee’s closed head injury, which was undisputed resulted from a fall at work, was compensable absent evidence of a pre-existing condition that may have caused the fall. If there is only one cause of an employee’s injury, rather than competing causes, the employee is not required to present additional evidence going to the issue of whether the work-related accident was the major contributing cause of the injury. Lanham v. Department of Environmental Protection, 868 So. 2d 561 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004). If there is evidence of a preexisting condition, not related to the workplace, then the employee must establish that the employment itself created the hazard of risk. Hernando County v. Dokoupil, 667 so. 2d 275 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995). But in the absence of an established competing cause of an employee’s accidental injuries, the employee satisfies the major contributing cause requirement of section 440.09(1) and need not show an increased risk of harm associated with the employment to establish the causal connection between the employment and the accident. Ross v. Charlotte County Public Schools, 100 So. 3d 781 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012).[1]

Florida workers’ compensation cases are extremely fact specific. Therefore, if you have questions regarding your injury, it’s best to rely on the opinion of a Tampa workers’ compensation attorney regaring your specific facts and circumstances–as opposed to relevant case law cited above. If you have suffered a fall from an unknown cause, or have other questions surrounding work injuries in Florida, contact our office for a free consultation.

[1] Summary from Wendell v. Enterprise; OJCC 15;016954JAW; Affirmed by DCA 2/20/17