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Fitzgerald v. Walmart: Workers’ Compensation Appeals

While there are a lot of cases involving denial of workers’ compensation benefits that are appealed to a United States District Court or United States Court of Appeals, most of them deal with particular factual issues. However, every once in a while, a decision about a workers’ compensation issue is made that has real impact on future cases, and that case is considered truly noteworthy.

gavel-2-1409592-mAccording to a recent news feature from The National Law Review, Fitzgerald v. Walmart is a noteworthy workers’ compensation case. The reason this case garnered so much attention is because the court held that, even though she felt a “pop” in her lower back while at work, that did not make this a work-related injury.

This is obviously significant, because workers’ compensation benefits are only awarded for a work-related injury or illness. In the case of an injury, it generally must have occurred while the claimant was at work. In this case, claimant testified that she felt the pop while she was walking at work, but she was not engaged in any other work activity at the time. Prior to feeling the pop, she had been lifting items as required by her job as zone merchandise supervisor, which is a position at Wal-Mart.

After feeling the pop, she went to her manager and filed a workplace injury report. She saw her normal doctor, and he found that she had a protrusion in some of the discs in her lumbar spine. She took 12 weeks of leave from work under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and then returned to work. However, after returning, she fell and broke her elbow while not on the job. At this point, she was fired, and her application for workers’ compensation was never approved.

In this case, employee had filed one claim for the popping incident and a second claim for the long-term damage to her back as a result of years of work at the store. Her employer denied both claims, and she filed the claims with the workers’ compensation court. That judge sided with her employer and dismissed both of her claims.   At this point, she appealed to the appellate division of the workers’ compensation court, and that court also sided with her employer.

The court reasoned that claimant had failed to establish the popping injury would not have happened if she was not at work, since it occurred when she was merely walking and not engaged in any lifting.

With respect to her ongoing degenerative disc condition, the court felt that claimant had not submitted any evidence that the damage was the result of an occupational factor. In other words, the appellate division concluded that she did not prove any of the conditions under which she was required to show that her work would contribute to a protrusion of discs in the lumbar spine.  The court also noted that provisional risk test and a “but for” causation test did not determine if the injury was related.   It should be noted that your Boston workplace injury lawyer would not typically need to prove causation, since it is no fault-system; however, in certain cases, it is not a question of whether employer was negligent, as that is not relevant, but whether the injury was work-related.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a Boston work accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Appellate Division Upholds Decision in Walmart Workers’ Comp Case, January 21, 2016, National Law Review

More Blog Entries:

Increased Fines for Employers Who Do Not Maintain Workers’ Compensation Coverage, July 22, 2011