Articles & Updates

Johme v. St. John's Mercy Healthcare, 2011 Missouri Appellant No. ED 96497

by Tim Tierney

Facts:

Claimant worked in the employment of St. John's Mercy Healthcare in a satellite office and typed charges and denials in the computer system for physicians.  On June 23, 2008 the claimant left her cubicle and went to the kitchen area of the office, began making coffee, turned, and slipped off the side of her sandal injuring her right hip and pelvis.  The flooring was found free of any defect, hazard, or irregularity.

There was no evidence of any negligence on the part of the employer.

Administrative Law Judge Lane denied the claimant's claim for benefits ruling that Johme was not performing her duties at the time of the fall, and that she would have been exposed to the same hazard or risk any normal, non-employment life.

The Labor & Industrial Relations Commission disagreed and awarded claimant temporary total disability payments, past medical expenses and permanent partial disability.

Findings:

The Court of Appeals disagreed with the decision of the Commission indicating that ordinarily they would have remanded same for a decision consistent with their opinion.  However in this case, as they agreed with the decision of the Southern District Court of Appeals opinion and Pile the Lake Regional Health Systems, the case was transferred to the Supreme Court pursuant to Rule 8302.

In its award, the Eastern District Court of Appeals concluded that the claimant had twisted her ankle and as a result of same and sustained injury.  The Court based that conclusion upon a report drafted by claimant's supervisor immediately following the accident, which specifically stated that the claimant had twisted her ankle.

The employer argued that the accident did not arise out of, and did not occur within, the scope of claimant's employment.

The Court of Appeals relied to a great degree upon the 2005 amendments to the Missouri Workers' Compensation Statute.  In doing so, they specifically indicated that it was the Articulated Legislative Purpose of said amendments to raise the threshold for obtaining workers' compensation.  "Consequently, the case is interpreting those terms and applying a liberal construction of those Statutes were abrogated".

In applying strict construction of the facts at hand, the Court concluded that the only "risk, involved in this circumstance was that of making coffee or more generally, performing normal, kitchen related activities.

The Commission's decision relied upon the Personal Comfort Doctrine as well as the use of the two step approach employed by the Southern District, Court of Appeals in Piles v. Lake Regional Health Systems, 321 S.W. 3d 463 ( Mo. App. S.D. 2010).  The Eastern District concluded that the use of the personal comfort doctrine lead to an erroneous award and the Pile approach is not currently supported by Statute or case law.  The Court specifically determined that "the Commission reliance of the personal comfort doctrine is inappropriate because it directly contradicts the legislature's explicit instructions for construing provisions in the act.

The opinion in Johme directly contradicts the conclusions in Pile and accordingly should produce a very interesting Supreme Court case in the next year.  As things further develop we will keep you advised.

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