Issue of the week: When does a claim “arise out of” and occur in the “course and scope” of an employee’s work activites?
In order for an injured worker to recover workers compensation benefits their injury MUST “arise out of” and occur “in the course and scope of” their employment. (Minn. Stat. Sec. 176.021 Subd. 1.) That seems simple enough until you let a group of lawyers battle over the meaning of the phrases: “arise out of” and “course and scope.” The Minnesota courts have issued many opinions addressing this issue. In all cases they break the statute into two separate elements instead of interpreting the entire phrase as one requirement. In its simplest form: “arising out of” relates to whether the employee is actually doing their job and the “course and scope” requirement relates to the time, place and circumstances of the injury meaning did the injury occur at the workplace or on premises or during typical work hours, etc.
Last week we talked about what happens when the No Fault act meets the Workers Compensation Statute. The reason for that was a case in which my client sustained injuries falling off his work truck. The issue being whether it was a workers compensation or no fault claim? The specific facts included my client returning to his truck, after weeks away from the job on a layoff, to retrieve some personal property. The key fact, in my opinion, in that case is that the personal property was not just a sweatshirt he owned. It was a piece of equipment his employer mandated he have in order to do his job: in this case a radio and radio antenna. As he removed it, he fell and injured himself. In my case, I was convinced he was in the “course in scope” of his employment because he was in the employer’s truck yard, removing something from their truck. The tougher issue was whether the injury “arose out of” his employment? He needed the radio and antenna to do his job and he needed to remove it, so, to me, he met the “arising out of “ requirement and we pursue the workers compensation claim. (In cases like this it is best to pursue both angles which we are currently doing to ensure a recovery for the injured worker one way or the other.)
The Minnesota Supreme Court, however, recently issued a decision in a very important “arising out of” case. (Dykhoff v. Xcel Energy and CCMSI.) In that case the injured worker sustained her injuries falling on a floor while attending a training session at her employer. The issue in that case was similarly “arising out of”. The parties did not dispute “course and scope” because she was on her employer’s premises at the time of her injuries. The Supreme Court rejected an earlier decision that allowed the parties to weigh “course and scope” facts against “arising out of” facts. Some earlier decisions suggested that if one of the factors, as in both Dykoff and my case, the course and scope facts, was extremely strong then weaker “arising out of” facts would not preclude an injured employee’s recovery of benefits.
My reading of Dykhoff is this: The law is not any different. We, as lawyers for injured workers have always needed to prove both elements. If you had one strong element and the other was altogether missing you could not recover workers compensation benefits. That did not change. What did change was the balancing aspect of the analysis, but in reality we always needed to prove both elements. In my case, the fact that my client was not on the clock, was not being paid, was not en route to perform a task for his employer will be pounded on by defense counsel. I am not scared. The employer required him to have the equipment. He was not there for fun or recreation. His employment increased his risk of injury and it occurred on the employer’s premises. Thus, he meets both elements and should recover benefits. I will keep you updated. The case is sure to be litigated.