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Claimant was employed as a housekeeper at a Mental Health Center

Claimant was employed as a housekeeper at a Mental Health Center. She held the job for approximately three years until she was injured on 27 January 1993. While at work and engaged in the duties of her job on the premises of her employer, claimant suffered a knee injury. She squatted to lift a bag of laundry off the floor of the laundry room and felt immediate pain in her right knee. It turns out that she sustained a tear of the lateral meniscus in that knee. Thereafter, the Judge of Compensation Claims ruled that the injury was idiopathic and not compensable because the claimant failed to prove that her employment involved an exertion greater than that performed during her daily life. The Suffolk Judge issued a worker’s compensation order denying compensation. According to the order, the claimant did not fall, twist, lose her balance or experience any other unusual movement, and the claimant’s injury was idiopathic and did not arise out of the claimant’s employment because her employment did not expose her to any greater risk than she experiences in her everyday life and to which the population as a whole is exposed. The claimant then filed an appeal from the said order.
Under the law, for an injury to be compensable it must arise out of one’s employment and must occur in the course and scope of that employment. Here, the employer and carrier have conceded that the spinal injury to the claimant occurred in the course and scope of her employment, while performing her job duties on the employer’s premises. The question now is whether the injury arose out of the claimant’s employment.

As a rule, an unexpected injury sustained during the ordinary performance of one’s duties in the usual manner is a compensable accident and it is not necessary for the claimant to demonstrate that there was a slip and fall accident or other mishap. The term “accident” includes an internal failure such as a ruptured disc or a snapped knee cap. Here, the court finds that it was sufficient for the claimant to prove that her spinal injury occurred in the period of her employment and at a place where she would reasonably be, while fulfilling her duties, to establish that her accident arose out of, and occurred in the course and scope of her employment,. The “arising out of” prong of this test is satisfied by evidence that the injury originated in some work connected with the employment, that is, the claimant must show that his injury can be attributed to some event or circumstances connected with his work. Based on the facts and evidence presented, the claimant has done this. Staten Island Claimant produced evidence that she was squatting to pick up a bag of laundry which is one of her job duties.

On another note, when the employer and carrier assert that an injury is the result of a personal risk such as an idiopathic preexisting condition, they must carry the burden of proving the existence of such a condition. Only if the employer and carrier have satisfied that burden of proof is it appropriate for the JCC to hold the claimant to the more stringent standard for compensability which was erroneously applied by the JCC, to establish that the employment exposed the claimant to a risk of injury greater than that the employee would normally encounter in non-employment life. However, if the employee has no prior weakness or disease, any exertion connected with employment and causally connected with the injury as a medical fact is adequate to satisfy the legal test of causation. Here, there was no evidence to support the conclusion that the claimant’s injury was the result of a preexisting condition. There was only one medical expert, presented before the court, who offered evidence relevant to this issue. According to the expert, some older women, over 45 or 50, in express and direct contrast to the 28 year old claimant, may experience meniscal tears simply upon squatting, however, he specifically refuted any suggestion of an abnormality in the claimant’s knee or any knowledge of a preexisting injury. Thus, in the absence of any evidence which could support a finding that there was a preexisting abnormality, the court concludes that the Judge of Compensation Claims erred in ruling that this injury was not compensable.

In view of the foregoing, the court finds that the order must be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The Judge of Compensation Claims applied the wrong test for determining compensability.

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