By: Courtney Paterson

“An idiopathic injury is one that has an unexplained origin or cause, and generally does not arise out of the employment unless ‘some condition of the employment presents a peculiar or additional hazard.’” McCaffery v. Cardinal Logistics, No. 2015-08-0218, 2015 TN Wrk. Comp. App. Bd. LEXIS 50, at *9 (Tenn. Workers’ Comp. App. Bd. Dec. 10, 2015) (citation omitted). However, “[a]n injury that occurs due to an idiopathic condition is compensable if an employment hazard causes or exacerbates the injury.” Id. at *10. “Cause in this context is not proximate cause as used in the law of negligence; rather, cause means that the accident originated in the hazards to which the employee was exposed as a result of performing his job duties.” Id.

Kimberly Bullard v. Facilities Performance Group, et al.

Docket No. 2017-08-1053
Filed August 7, 2018
State File No. 71623-2017

Posture: This is a case before the Appeals Board on an interlocutory appeal filed by the employer, and the dispute was whether the employer is entitled to medical benefits.

The employee alleged suffering injuries to left arm on September 19, 2017 when she missed a step and fell. The employee admitted that there was nothing wet or slick on the step, nor was she carrying anything in her arms at the time of the fall, but that she simply forgot the step was there. Employer denied the claim on the basis that the injury was the result of an idiopathic fall. Thereafter the employee sought unauthorized medical treatment with Dr. John B. Williams, an orthopedic surgeon. Employer continued to assert that Employee’s injuries did not arise out of the employment because the single step from which she fell was not a hazard peculiar to her employment. The employer argued that most buildings have either a step or a curb at or near its doors to prevent water from entering the building and, therefore, the hazard that caused Employee’s fall is one to which the general public is equally exposed. The trial court found Employee was likely to prevail at trial in establishing that her injury arose primarily out of her employment and was not the result of an idiopathic event. The court explained that Employee “was exiting the building because her job required it,” that “the area included a step that resulted in her fall,” and that “the step constituted a specific hazard of [Employee’s] employment beyond mere ambulation.”

The appeals board affirmed the decision of the trial court. The appeals board found the employee in the present case has been able to describe with particularity what caused her to fall, namely, she was exiting a building, forgot a step was there, missed the step, and fell to the concrete. This is not an idiopathic injury, as it is neither one of unexplained origin or cause, nor the result of a condition purely personal to the employee. Employee fell as she was exiting one building, which she had been cleaning, to go clean the next building assigned to her crew. To fulfill her cleaning assignments, she was required to navigate varying numbers of stairs in and out of the buildings while on the clock, a point Employer’s witnesses readily acknowledged.