South Carolina Supreme Court Adopts What Amounts to Positional Risk Standard in Slip and Fall Cases

The Supreme Court of South Carolina, reversing the state court of appeals, recently held that an office worker who sustained injuries when she fell as she walked down an unobstructed, carpeted hallway, can recover workers’ compensation benefits; her injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment [see Nicholson v. S.C. Dep’t of Social Servs., 2015 S.C. LEXIS 3 (Jan. 14, 2015)]. 

The employer did not dispute that the employee’s injuries occurred within the course of her employment; the issue was whether they arose out of that employment. The court of appeals held they did not, that no evidence was presented to show that the fall was unexplained or idiopathic and that the carpet was not a hazard or special condition peculiar to the employment that contributed to or caused the employee’s injuries. In sort, her fall could have occurred anywhere.

Quoting extensively from Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, the Court said that to require the employee to show that the fall and ensuing injuries resulted from some condition of the workplace essentially introduced an element of fault into the scenario, whereas the whole concept of workers’ compensation was to remove that very idea. Although the Court did not use the magic words, it essentially adopted the positional risk rule in these sorts of fall/injury cases, stating:

Quite simply, [the employee] was at work on the way to a meeting when she tripped and fell. The circumstances of her employment required her to walk down the hallway to perform her responsibilities and in the course of those duties she sustained an injury. We hold these facts establish a causal connection between her employment and her injuries—the law requires nothing more. Because [the employee’s] fall happened at work and was not caused by a condition peculiar to her, it was causally connected to her employment. Therefore, her injuries arose out of her employment as a matter of law and she is entitled to workers’ compensation.

Opinion, p. 12-13

That’s very close to a positional risk standard.

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