Thompson v. Minn. Trial Courts

Thompson v. Minn. Trial Courts – District 4, No. WC23-6519 (January 26, 2024).

Compensation Judge: William J. Marshall

Holding: An Employee engaging in actions that are incidental to their employment may not qualify as actions arising out of and in the course of their employment if the compensation judge can reasonably find an absence of a sufficient causal connection between the Employee’s injury and their employment.

In this matter, the Employee, Andrew Thompson, was a court operations supervisor for the Minnesota Fourth District Trial Courts, hereinafter the Employer. In December of 2021, the Employee was at work during a time when a politically controversial verdict was going to be announced, and based on the potential reaction to the verdict, the Employer told all non-essential employees that they were to work from home the rest of the day and would be informed when they were able to return based on the reaction. The employees were told that they could bring any equipment that they needed home with them and were not instructed on when they needed to return the equipment. Additionally, the Employee did not regularly work from home as his job duties were that in which he would need to be in the Employer’s facilities.

Also, as the Employer leases space for its work operations on the eighth floor of the Hennepin County Government Center, many employees, including the Employee in this matter, would park at a ramp located nearby the Employer’s workspace and, depending on the weather, the Employee would also walk to work. The employees were not told where to park or given passes to a certain parking ramp, but rather, could decide for themselves where they would park on a daily basis.

The following day, the employees were told that they were to resume their normal work activities back in the Employer’s facilities. The Employee then gathered the Employer’s equipment and took them with him to return. As he was on his way back to work, the Employee noticed that the weather had deteriorated over night, with the roads being rather icy due to the influx of freezing rain. When the Employee made it back to the public ramp that he would normally park in, however, due to the security measures taken for the release of the verdict the day before, there was only one entrance to enter the Employer’s facilities, which happened to be a different one the skyway entrance that the Employee would usually use when parking in the public ramp.

The Employee then gathered the equipment from his car to bring with him, which he testified did not impact his ability to walk or hinder his ability to make it into work. However, when the Employee made it about 70-feet from the Employer’s entrance, he slipped on the publicly owned icy sidewalk. The Employee suffered a fractured rib and post-concussive symptoms as a result.

Thereafter, the Employer denied primary liability, the matter was then brought in front of a compensation judge, William J. Marshall, who determined that the record showed the injury did not arise out of and in the course of his employment, which the Employee then appealed.

The WCCA heard the appeal, where the Employee’s attorney argued that the Employee’s injury fell under one or more of three potential exceptions: 1) “special hazard;” 2) sustained while engaging in a “special errand;” or 3) arising as a result of a “street risk.”

Specifically, with regard to the special hazard exception, the WCCA noted that it requires a causal connection to present that originated on the employment premises or that is part of the working environment that peculiarly exposes an employee to an external hazard that subjects the employee to a different and greater risk than when pursuing their ordinary affairs. Here, the judge noted the ice on the sidewalk was not present due to any reason associated with his employment and the judge further noted that the Employee here testified that carrying his work equipment played no role in his fall and that the fall was due to a condition that was equally shared by the general public.

As for the special errand exception, the WCCA again found the Employee’s argument unpersuasive as the Employee was not told that he had to bring the equipment back, as there was no express request to do so and the Employer had additional, like-equipment at their facilities that would not require the equipment be back for the Employee to perform his job duties.

Lastly, regarding the street risk exception, the WCCA noted that, as with the special errand exception, it was reasonable for the compensation judge to conclude that the Employee was not engaged in a service for the Employer when he slipped on the ice 70-feet from the Employer’s entrance because the Employee was not, necessarily, put into that situation by his employment.

Accordingly, the WCCA affirmed the compensation judge’s determination since there was substantial evidence on the record that the Employee failed to sustain his burden of showing that the injuries did in fact arise out of and in the course of his employment with the Employer.