MN High Court Gives Math Lesson to Lower Court: “2/3 Does Not Equal 1/2”

Holding that the factual findings of a workers’ compensation judge were “self-contradictory,” the Supreme Court of Minnesota has, for the second time, reversed and remanded an award of benefits to an employee who fractured her ankle while traversing a staircase at her workplace [Arrowhead Senior Living Community v. Kainz, 2015 Minn. LEXIS 106 (Mar. 4, 2015)]. The case had earlier been reversed and remanded following the high court’s decision in Dykhoff v. Xcel Energy, 840 N.W.2d 821 (Minn. 2013), in which the Court found that an employee must show that her workplace exposed her to a risk of injury greater than that faced in her everyday life“—in other words, a ”special hazard.” 840 N.W.2d at 827.

After remand, the judge made—and the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals relied upon—two factual findings to conclude that that the injury was compensable under the increased-risk test. First, the WCCA held that the judge’s finding that “[n]o handrails were on that portion of the stairway where [Kainz] inverted and twisted her ankle” was supported by substantial evidence in the record. The high court observed, however, that the WCCA failed to observe that the compensation judge found that the injury occurred on the sixth step out of twelve on the stairway, where there was “[n]o handrail[],” yet also found that the handrails extended “about two-thirds” of the way down the staircase. The Court noted that both findings could not be true; one or the other must be incorrect. The Court also said the WCCA relied on photographic evidence to conclude that the compensation judge’s “no-handrails” finding was not clearly erroneous. However, the Supreme Court reviewed the photographic evidence in the record and observed that it conclusively showed that the handrails extended all the way down the staircase. The Court held, therefore, that the WCCA’s decision was manifestly contrary to the evidence.

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