WCB App Div Decides Legal Causation

On October 25, 2016, the Maine Worker's Compensation Board’s Appellate Division issued two decisions on the difficult issue of “legal causation.” In both decisions, the Administrative Law Judge denied the employees’ petitions, and the same Appellate Division panel remanded one decision for further findings and affirmed the other decision.

In O'Brien v. Southern Maine Medical Center, O'Brien was a medical assistant who injured her shoulder when she fell at work as a result of pre-existing dizziness. Judge Stovall denied her petitions, finding that she failed to prove a causal connection between her injury and her employment. O'Brien requested further findings of fact on whether a misplaced folding chair caused or contributed to her fall, or whether the laptop she was carrying prevented her from breaking her fall with both hands. Although Judge Stovall made further findings of fact, he did not address all of O’Brien's factual contentions. The Appellate Division panel determined that his findings did not adequately address O'Brien's arguments or provide an adequate basis for appellate review, and they remanded the case for further findings.

In Daszkiewicz v. Penobscot Bay Medical Center, Daszkiewicz was a medical assistant who had a pre-existing “multiple chemical sensitivity” and “hypersensitivity to ordinary fragrances and odors that caused her to develop symptoms in reaction to minimal exposures.” She apparently had a breathing episode at work which required medical treatment and some time away from work. She filed a Petition for Award which Judge Elwin denied, finding that her employment did not “contribute a substantial element to increase the risk of injury or illness [sufficient to] offset the personal risk she brought with her to the employment.” Judge Elwin found that Daszkiewicz “just happened to be at work when the disability arose.”

These decisions provide guidance for parties and practitioners in future similar cases, and they show that, just because an injury or illness occurs at work, that does not make it compensable under the Maine Worker’s Compensation Act. To be compensable under 39-A MRSA §201 (1), the injury must not only arise “in the course of” the employment, it must also arise “out of” the employment and not out of the employee's pre-existing condition alone. If you have any questions about these or any other cases, please let us know.

Thomas Getchell
Daniel Gilligan
Michael Richards
Attorneys at Law