Keltner (deceased employee) by Delinda Walters v. Spartan Staffing, LLC

Keltner (deceased employee) by Delinda Walters v. Spartan Staffing, LLC. No. WC17-6026 (WCCA September 5, 2017)

Employee, Ryan Keltner, died resulting from a fall at a distribution center while employed by a staffing company at the Schwan’s Distribution Center.  The employee was a night shift material handler.  He would routinely punch in, change into clothes for working in a large freezer section, including boots, coveralls, sweatshirts, mittens, and hard hats.  A large freezer had three levels of conveyor belts with up to a height of 19 feet from the floor.  A sign hanging about the third tier read “Do not go beyond this point.  Wear fall protection.”  The employee’s supervisor testified that consequences of disobeying the sign would be termination of employment.  A full-body safety harness was available in the breakroom of the freezer area.

Keltner was not scheduled to work, but had a cold and decided not to work.  He learned a co-worker was ill and off work, and changed his mind and went into work.

The employee signed in on his timecard at 7:45 p.m.  A security camera showed the employee in the stairwell entering the third level of the conveyor three minutes before signing in.

Five minutes later, the employee was found on the ground floor of the freezer area bleeding.  His hard hat was found on top of a pallet on the third level.

The employer denied claimed dependency benefits on the grounds that the death did not arise out of and in the course of employment, and that the employee engaged in a prohibited act.  The employer also claimed the employee had not started his work, and it so it was not in the “course of employment.”  The WCCA concluded that the employee had reasonable time before his work began for ingress and egress, and that the employee was reasonably within those bounds.

The WCCA also analyzed the case under the “increased risk” Dykhoff analysis, and concluded that exposure to the high heights in the workplace meant that risk arose out of Keltner’s employment.

The WCCA rejected the argument that the employee was outside the course of his employment because of engaging in a prohibited act.  The Court intentionally did not address multiple common law factors that had been considered in other cases.  Carefully avoiding the common law factors, the WCCA did not go beyond the employee being in the “course of employment.”

The WCCA also rejected the defense that the dependent’s claimed were barred because the injury was self-inflicted.  The employee’s girlfriend initially made a statement to a nurse in the hospital that she thought the employee’s fall was “on purpose.”  The employee’s girlfriend reversed that statement at hearing, and said that she was misunderstood.  The employee’s parents testified that he was looking forward to becoming a permanent Schwan’s employee.  The judge also noted that the employee had put on all of the “freezer gear,” and his hurrying to get to work on a day he intended to be off work was evidence that he did not intend to commit suicide.

The dependency claim was awarded.