If tree falls on Porta-Potty, non-compensable injury, Tennessee High Court finds

If a tree falls on a worker while taking a bathroom break, the resulting injury is not necessarily compensable, the Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled.

In Brett Rosasco v. West Knoxville Painters and State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., the court ruled on Friday that Rosasco may have been within the scope and scope of nature’s appeal, but that nature, not its use, caused the accident that left him with serious spinal injuries.

“We find that the Workers’ Compensation Claims Court correctly determined that Mr. Rosasco’s injuries were not primarily the result of his employment,” Senior Judge William Acree wrote in the November 18 notice.

Rosasco was painting a house in October 2019 on what has been described as an extremely windy day. He took a break from painting to let the wind blow, then went to the toilet in a portable toilet that was on the street near the house. Rosasco’s employer had not placed the porta-john there and no one seemed to know who had, the court said.

Inside, Rosasco heard a loud “crack” and rushed outside, only to be hit by a dead tree as it fell. Rosasco was taken to the emergency room and underwent multi-level fusion surgery to repair spinal fractures. Her attending physician subsequently banned her from lifting more than 25 pounds.

The painting contractor’s employer denied Rosasco’s workers’ compensation claim, arguing that the injury was not the result of his work, that the fallen tree was an act of God and that the tree risk was not job specific but posed the same risk to the general public. The compensation claims tribunal judge agreed and concluded that Rosasco had failed to demonstrate a causal link between the injury and his work as a painter.

Rosasco’s lawyer argued that the incident was part of his job because the injury occurred while the man sought personal comfort while on the job, which was generally considered compensable. Attorney Cary Bauer of Knoxville also said the landowner or other responsible party should have known of the danger and removed the tree before it fell.

The High Court cited a number of previous court decisions which have held that the Tennessee Compensation Act, like the laws of most states, requires that the injury occur “primarily in connection with and within the framework of ‘use “.

Just because an employee was injured in the workplace does not mean the injury occurred in the course and scope of the job, the court said, citing a 2007 court ruling.

“When an employee sustains an injury resulting from an uncontrolled force of nature or force majeure, to meet the ‘occurring from’ requirement, the employee must prove that the injury was caused by a increased risk inherent in the nature of the job and not a danger common to the general public, ”a 2011 court ruling, Dixon v Travelers Indemnity Co., wrote in the Supreme Court.

A 1954 Tennessee Supreme Court decision also found that a worker killed in a storm, while in his employer’s truck, was not entitled to worker benefits. Ditto for an employee who was killed while working in a building that was hit by a tornado, a 1974 ruling in Hill v St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance held.

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