While in many cases, an employee injured on the job is entitled to collect workers’ compensation payments, there are some cases where employees are prevented from doing so. One was just spelled out recently by the West Virginia Supreme Court: an employee who is injured helping another employee with a task cannot collect workers’ compensation.
Georgette Morton worked as a secretary at Seneca Health Services of Summersville. She injured her right wrist and shoulder while helping a coworker lift a box of maternity clothes. Morton’s request for workers’ compensation was denied, most recently by the Workers’ Comp Board of Review before it was appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court. The Supreme Court then upheld the Board of Review’s decision 4-1, finding that in order for Morton to be eligible under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, Morton’s injury needed to have resulted from her employment. Since lifting a box was not part of Morton’s work duties, she was not eligible.
One Supreme Court justice, Robin Davis, strongly disagreed with the majority’s analysis and wrote a scathing dissent. She noted that the majority never considered that the box had been left in Morton’s office, rather than on some part of the premises that had no relation to Morton. As such, Morton’s workspace was directly impacted by the box’s presence. Removing the box benefited Morton’s employer by allowing her to have all of the space necessary to perform her assigned duties. Davis further wrote that the majority’s ruling would have a “chilling effect” on employee moral and would discourage employees from showing kindness to other employees unless it involved tasks they were authorized to perform.
It is hard to disagree with Justice Davis’s interpretation. Morton was not performing a task that was completely unrelated to her work. Moreover, employees perform tasks outside of their stated job duties all the time — they may even be required to do so. Finally, given that workers’ compensation is a no fault system, it seems slightly unfair that an injured worker who was careless could collect workers’ compensation, while Morton, who might have taken every precaution, cannot collect. After the Supreme Court’s ruling, it is unknown whether Morton will pursue other options, including petitioning the United States Supreme Court.
Those who work for employers with workers’ compensation insurance must give up their right to sue the employer. However, that does not mean an injured employee has no use for a West Virginia personal injury attorney. He or she may have a claim against a third party, such as the manufacturer of equipment that caused the injury. He or she may also need an attorney to advise him or her during the workers’ compensation process, and especially to represent during a workers’ compensation appeal. Contact an experienced attorney if you need workers’ compensation help today.
The Wolfe Law Firm has been providing legal services for nearly 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm provides services in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, and mediation. If you are looking for an experienced West Virginia attorney, contact us today.