Richmond, VA (WorkersCompensation.com) – When an employee experiences an injury while at work, it doesn’t automatically mean she can claim a work-related injury.
However, in CJ Designs Inc. v. Williams, No. 1251-20-4 (Va. Ct. App. 06/15/21, unpublished), because a certified nursing assistant had to bend awkwardly to complete a work task involving a patient in a wheelchair, evidence showed that her back injury “arose out of” her employment.
‘Oh, my God. My Back’
A CNA for a residential facility for elderly people and individuals with disabilities transported one of the residents to a doctor’s appointment. Because the resident was upset after the appointment, the CNA asked for help in transitioning the resident into the car.
While two other nurses lifted the patient out of a wheelchair, the CNA bent down to lift the patient’s legs and feet into the car. As she did so, she heard something “pop.” Feeling severe pain, the CNA said, “Oh, my God. My back.”
The CNA filed a workers’ compensation claim. At a hearing, a deputy commissioner of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission found in the facility’s favor. On review, the full commission sent the case back to the deputy commissioner, finding that the CNA experienced a work-related injury.
On the second time around, the deputy commissioner entered an award for medical benefits related to the accident and temporary total disability from the time of the accident to when the CNA was released to light duty. The commission affirmed, prompting the facility to appeal to court, arguing that the CNA did not experience a work-related injury.
Contributing Environmental Factors
Under Virginia law, an injury doesn’t “arise out of” employment just because it happened on the job, and “simple acts of walking, bending, or turning, without any other contributing environmental factors, are not risks of employment.”
The court rejected the facility’s argument that the CNA didn’t experience a work-related injury.
“The evidence supported the Commission’s finding that [the CNA] was injured when she ‘was required to bend straight from the waist … because of the placement of the patient’s wheelchair next to the vehicle,'” the court explained. “It was thus the confined conditions of the workplace that caused the injury.”
The court further reasoned that environmental factors related to the task contributed to the injury.
“The evidence supports the Commission’s finding that [the CNA] ‘was not simply bending or arising from a bent position’ as an isolated movement but rather that the process of transferring the patient was one continuous task,” the court wrote. “Moreover, the Commission found that during this process, the conditions of the workplace at that moment caused her to bend in an awkward position.”
As a result, the court upheld the commission’s ruling in the CNA’s favor.