Injury Must Arise From Employment

Injury is generally compensable if it arises out of employment. Injury is considered to arise out of employment where it results from a risk related to the duties performed in the course of employment. To determine whether employment duties give rise to a particular risk, courts look primarily at whether employment duties place the employee in a position to be injured as a result of a risk. This discussion looks at a variety of scenarios containing risk of injury and describes whether specific occurrences of injury are compensable. The following guidelines range from injury occurring as the result of extreme weather conditions, to automobile accidents en route to a job site and even to injury occurring as the result of drinking or resting on the job.

Risks specifically associated with employment are always compensable. These are risks occurring most commonly in manual labor environments such as factories. Examples include machinery breaking, objects falling, explosions, fingers catching in gears and even those disease-causing elements inherent in some factory environments. Injuries resulting from these risks are attributable to job duties and are thus within the scope of coverage.

On the other hand, risks personal to an individual employee are never compensable. A risk personal to an employee is one existing independent of the employment relationship. In other words, if an employee suffers an injury that only happened on the job by coincidence rather than as a result of some job-related risk, then that injury is outside the scope of employment. For example, a hemophiliac who bleeds to death from a paper cut obtained from his time card while clocking in for a shift as a cotton-handler is not likely to have a claim for benefits, since his death resulted from his hemophilia and not an inherent risk of his job.

However, personal risk injuries should not be confused with mixed risk injuries. Mixed risk injuries are caused by a combination of employment related as well as personal causes. For example, where an employee with a weak heart suffers a heart attack due to the excessive strain of his employment, the injury is compensable so long as the employment is at least a contributing factor.

Finally, injury from a neutral risk occurs where it is unclear whether the risk stems from the nature of the employment or from the individual employee. Courts also use neutral risk analysis where the cause of the injury is unknown. Where a neutral risk injury occurs in an employment setting, courts will assume that the injury is job related unless the employer produces evidence showing otherwise.