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First DCA finds that the work-from-home arrangement does not mean that the employer imports the work environment into a claimant’s home and the claimant’s home into the work environment.

July 1, 2019
Sedgwick v. Valcourt-Williams, No. 1D17-96, 1st DCA, April 5, 2019

The claimant worked as a remote employee. On the date of injury, she took a break from her work to get coffee. As she reached for a cup in her kitchen, she fell over one of her two dogs. In her workers’ compensation claim, she asserted the fall resulted in knee, hip and shoulder injuries. The employer denied the claim, contending that the injuries did not arise out of her employment. The judge of compensation claims found in favor of the claimant. The employer appealed. The First DCA reviewed the case de novo regarding the judge’s application of law to the undisputed facts.

The judge of compensation’s findings deemed the injury compensable, concluding the work-from-home arrangement meant the employer “imported the work environment into the claimant’s home and the claimant’s home into the work environment.” The First DCA stated that the question is not whether a claimant’s home environment becomes her work environment, rather, the question is whether the employment—wherever it is—”necessarily exposes a claimant to conditions which substantially contribute to the risk of injury.” In this case, the relevant risk was the claimant’s tripping over her dog while reaching for a coffee cup in her kitchen. The First DCA held that risk exists whether the claimant is at home working or she is at home not working. The majority opinion went on to say that it existed before she took her job and it will exist after her employment ends. Because the risk did not arise out of the employment, the First DCA reversed the judge’s ruling.

There were two very strong dissenting opinions by Judges Bilbrey and Makar. Judge Bilbrey expressed great concern about employers being subject to civil liability in these types of injuries. Both judges opined that the majority opinion bucks decades of precedent regarding the personal comfort doctrine. They felt that the claimant had a trip and fall accident during work hours, in her workplace, when she fell over personal property while attending to a personal comfort. Judge Makar felt that the key factual inquiry should have been whether the employer prohibited dogs in the home work environment and, if not, was it foreseeable that this type of accident might arise in a personal comfort break. He wrote that the employer did not limit pets and made no effort to control the environment and that a trip over a dog was foreseeable.

 

Case Law Alerts, 3rd Quarter, July 2019

Case Law Alerts is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. Copyright © 2019 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, all rights reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm.

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