JAMES V. DULUTH CLINIC, No. WC18-6128. (WCCA August 21, 2018).

In James v. Duluth Clinic, the Court reviewed the application of Roller-Dick, and distinguished that it requires looking at the totality of the circumstances, e.g., the work environment, rather than focusing on a failure to prove any one circumstance.

In James, the employee was a nurse anesthetist performing a procedure, which requires the employee to multitask while monitoring the patient’s vital signs and charts. This is done in a “tight space”, described as a “confined area.”

The injury occurred at the end of the procedure when the employee turned off a pump, observed the patient, then rolled his chair backward toward the computer so he could enter information in the patient’s chart. To access the computer, the employee stood and pivoted to his right. But in doing so, his right foot did not move, resulting in the employee’s right knee “popping.” This was diagnosed as an ACL rupture requiring surgery.

The employer and insurer denied the claim asserting that the injury did not arise out of employment. The employee argued two theories for why his foot did not move: (1) there was a substance on the floor, and (2) the traction on his shoes.

The judge found that it was credible that the injury occurred from the planting and twisting that allegedly occurred, but found the theories speculative. Claim was denied because as a matter of law, absent proof of something that caused the foot to stick to the floor, there was no increased risk, and thus the injury did not arise out of employment.

On appeal, in an opinion by Judge Quinn, the facts of the case were affirmed but the decision reverse because the trial judge applied the incorrect legal standard.

As stated by the Court, the correct legal standard is found in Roller-Dick v. CentraCare Health System. Therein, the Court found a compensable claim when an “external hazard” (where the employee is subjected to a different and greater risk than if pursuing ordinary affairs), combines with a hazard that originates on the premises as part of the working environment. In Roller-Dick, the employee fell on stairs, while carrying purse and plant. As cited by the James Court, “[t]he analysis of an increased risk involves examining the totality of the circumstances existing at the time of the injury.”

Thus, the trial court erred by focusing on the employee’s failure to prove a specific factor caused the injury. The proper test requires looking at the totality of the circumstances of the working environment, which when combined, create a hazard.