Villarreal v. AAA Galvanizing and Sentry Ins. Co.

Villarreal v. AAA Galvanizing and Sentry Ins. Co., No. WC13-5575 (W.C.C.A. October 4, 2013)

The employer and insurer unsuccessfully appealed a compensation judge’s finding that an employee’s left knee injury arose out of and in the course of his employment.

On March 26, 2013, the employee arrived approximately 10 to 20 minutes before his scheduled shift and parked in the employer’s parking lot.  As he exited his vehicle, he felt a popping sensation and immediate pain in his left knee.  He left his shift early to get medical treatment and his doctor took him off of work for one week.

The employee had arthroscopic surgery on May 8, 2012 and returned to light duty work on June 13 through July 22, but was taken off of work again because he continued to experience knee pain as well as low back pain.  On August 9, the employee returned to light duty work, but had several physical restrictions.

An independent medical examination revealed the parking lot incident would not have produced any significant injuries or internal derangement of the left knee.  The treating doctor disagreed and rated the employee for two percent permanent partial disability.

The employee filed a claim petition for benefits, including temporary total disability benefits, temporary partial disability benefits, two percent permanent partial disability benefits, and medical benefits.  At the hearing the parties stipulated the employee’s medical treatment was reasonable and necessary.

The compensation judge found the employee’s March 26, 2012 left knee injury arose out of an in the course of his employment and awarded temporary total disability benefits and medical benefits.  The employer and insurer appealed.

Employers must pay compensation “in every case of personal injury . . . arising out of and in the course of employment.”  Minn. Stat. § 176.021, subd. 1.  The employee must show the injury both “arose out of” and “in the course of” employment.   Bohlin v. St. Louis Cnty./Nopeming Nursing Home, 61 W.C.D. 69, 79 (W.C.C.A. 2000).   The test turns on whether the facts of each case support a work-connection.  Id. at 79.

“In the course of”

In this case, the WCCA determined the time, place, and circumstances indicated the employee was “in the course of his employment.”  He was in the process of exiting his vehicle in order to walk from the employer’s parking lot to the employer’s building, which was enough of a work-connection to deem the injury compensable.

The employee need not be directly involved in a work activity at the time of an injury since “[a]n activity is ‘in the course of employment’ if it occurs while the employee is fulfilling work duties or is engaged in activities reasonably incidental to his or her particular employment.” Krobchuk v. Koch Oil Refinery, 48 W.C.D. 607, 608 (W.C.C.A. 1993), summarily aff’d (Minn. June 3, 1993).  Therefore, exiting a parked vehicle in order to arrive early for a scheduled work shift is reasonably incidental to employment.

“Arising out of”

Under Minnesota workers’ compensation laws, for an injury to “arise out of” employment there must be a causal connection between the employment and the injury.  Lange v. Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro. Airports Comm’n, 257 Minn. 54 (1959).  Even though the activity the employee was engaged in at the time of the injury (departing from his car) was not unique to his employment, the W.C.C.A. determined there is no requirement that a work injury must occur as a result of an activity unique to employment.  Instead, injuries that occur as a result of actions which could have occurred just as easily elsewhere may be compensable.  The injury was “caused by the manner in which the employee moved as he was starting to walk from the employer’s parking lot into the employer’s building.”

There was substantial evidence to support the compensation judge’s finding the employee’s injury “arose out of and in the course of his employment.”  Because there was a sufficient work-connection, the parking lot injury was compensable.

The employer also argued the temporary total disability award was not causally related to the work injury because the employee was taken off of work for both a nonwork-related (back pain) and a work-related condition (knee pain).  But the W.C.C.A. upheld the award stating that a work injury need not be the sole cause of the disability, only a substantial contributing cause.  There was no evidence in the record to show the disability was solely due to the employee’s low back condition.

The award of medical expenses was also affirmed based on the reasoning above as well as the parties’ stipulation that medical treatment was reasonable and necessary.

Note: This type of case may be handled differently after Dykhoff, so it is even more important to investigate all facts and circumstances associated with an injury such as this one.