Court Holds Stairs Themselves Presented an Increased Risk of Injury

The Minnesota Supreme Court recently affirmed, without opinion, a decision of the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals in which the WCCA concluded an employee’s fall while descending a flight of stairs was compensable because the stairs themselves presented an increased risk of injury.

In Kayla Lein v. Eventide, Lein fell and sustained injuries while descending a flight of stairs on her employer’s premises. There was no dispute that she was in the course of her employment at the time of her injury. The employer and insurer denied liability, asserting that the employee’s injury did not arise out of her employment.

Both parties submitted expert opinions to establish there was, or was not, “something wrong” with the stairs. The compensation judge denied the employee’s claim, concluding she failed to establish that she had been exposed to an increase risk. The employee appealed and the WCCA reversed. The employer and insurer appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Following a stay, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued an Order vacating the decision of the WCCA and remanding the matter for reconsideration in light of its decision regarding the standard of review issue in Kubis and the “increased-risk” test in Hohlt.

The WCCA noted that since Dykhoff, a number of cases involving stairways have been considered. In these cases, the focus has been a factual inquiry regarding the condition of the stairs and whether a defect was present, or some other explanation of why the employee fell that could be linked to the circumstances of his or her employment. However, the court said this factual inquiry distracts from the ultimate issue. The WCCA noted the use of stairs poses an increased risk, regardless of elements such as rushing, the presence of handrails, or slipperiness.

This court held in Roller-Dick that for an employee who is injured on stairs located on the employer’s premises, the stairs themselves constitute an increased risk and that injury is considered to have arisen out of the employment. The WCCA noted this analysis and conclusion in Roller-Dick is determinative of the outcome in this case.

The WCCA declined to engage in the factual inquiry relied upon in prior staircases because a focus on the issues of whether there was “something wrong” with the stairs conflicts with the explicit statutory prohibition of the consideration of negligence in workers’ compensation cases.

The court noted that similar to the icy sidewalk in Hohlt, the stairs themselves increase the risk of injury. As Hohlt explained, the question is not whether people encounter a condition in their everyday lives, but whether that condition is encountered on the employer’s premises as a result of the employment.

The WCCA concluded because the employee fell and was injured on stairs located on her employer’s premises and as a result of her employment, it was the stairs themselves which presented an increased risk of injury. Therefore, her claim is compensable.

The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the WCCA, noting that “[s]ummary affirmances have no precedential value because they do not commit the court to any particular view,” instead doing no more than establishing the law of the case.

Please click here to download a copy of the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeal’s decision.

Please click here to download a copy of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision.

If you have any questions, please contact Lauren N.Harvey at lnh@mccollumlaw.com.

 

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