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Missouri Workers Compensation Update

By J. Bradley Young, Harris Dowell Fisher & Young L.C.

May 5, 2021 - The Missouri Court of Appeals previously reversed a denial by the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, determining an employee who choked on a breakfast sandwich, causing him to crash his vehicle, suffered a compensable injury under the Missouri Workers' Compensation Law. Following this absurd decision, the Employer/Insurer filed for transfer to the Missouri Supreme Court. Historically, the Missouri Supreme Court takes very few workers' compensation claims each year. However, on April 6, the Missouri Supreme Court ordered this case to be transferred to the Court for further review.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT

Presumably, if the Missouri Supreme Court believed that the lower appellate court reached the correct decision, there would be no need to order a transfer of the case for further review. As such, this would be excellent opportunity for the Court to establish firm guidelines on the application of the “Equal Exposure” defense.

Section 287.020.(3)(2)(b) states that an injury is compensable if:

“It does not come from a hazard or risk unrelated to the employment to which workers would have been equally exposed outside of and unrelated to the employment in normal nonemployment life.”

The Missouri Court of Appeals has applied this statute as follows:

“[I]t is not enough that an employee's injury occurs while doing something related to or incidental to the employee's work; rather, the employee's injury is only compensable if it is shown to have resulted from a hazard or risk to which the employee would not be equally exposed in ‘normal nonemployment life.’” Johme v. St. John's Mercy Healthcare, 366 S.W.3d 504, 509 (Mo. banc 2012).

I would expect the focus of the Missouri Supreme Court in this case will be whether the claimant was equally exposed to crashing his vehicle while eating a breakfast sandwich, as well as whether the eating of the breakfast sandwich amounts to a compensable act under the “personal comfort doctrine.”

TIME FRAME

Even though the Missouri Supreme Court has agreed to review this case, please don’t hold your breath waiting for a decision. The Missouri Supreme Court is notoriously slow to reach decisions in workers' compensation claims, sometimes taking up to two years. Frankly, I would not expect a decision until the spring or early summer of 2022.

I will update you further as soon as the Court releases a decision in this case. If you have any questions or if you wish to discuss how this might apply to any of your current claims, please let me know.

J. Bradley Young Harris Dowell Fisher & Young L.C. 15400 South Outer 40, Suite 202, Chesterfield, MO 63017 Office: (636) 532-0300 | Cell: (314) 406-3095 | Fax: (636) 532-0246 Email: byoung@harrisdowell.com Website: www.harrisdowell.com

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