Whether employees can receive workers’ compensation benefits for injuries on staircases has become an increasingly contentious topic in Minnesota. A number of recent cases have shown that recovering benefits for a staircase injury is less than a sure bet.
Impact of Dykhoff on Staircase Injury Cases
The Dykhoff case was a turning point for staircase injury cases. Toni Dykhoff hurt her knee when she slipped and fell at her employer’s office. She was there for a meeting and dressed in two-inch heels. The floor was clean and dry, and she did not trip over anything. When the Minnesota Supreme Court heard her case on appeal, it decided that she should not receive benefits because there was no increased risk of injury to Ms. Dykhoff beyond what she would experience in her everyday life when she got injured. (See Dykhoff v. Xcel Energy.)
In the past, insurance companies had paid benefits to workers injured on staircases without a second thought. After the Dykhoff decision, they started denying claims and citing the lack of increased risk of injury as the reason. Courts, too, began looking more carefully at the safety features of the staircases involved. If a staircase had handrails and met safety requirements for steepness, the Supreme Court would deny workers benefits. (See Kubis v. Community Memorial Hosp. Ass’n; Arrowhead Senior Living v. Kainz, 860 N.W.2d 379 (Minn. 2015).)
The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals Pushes Back
After the Kubis and Kainz decisions, the WCCA began pushing back against the “increased risk of injury” test that the Supreme Court was applying. It argued that the Supreme Court was requiring employees to prove that their employers had been negligent in maintaining staircases or had negligently failed to provide safe premises for their employees. Instead, the WCCA asked “whether [employees] encountered an increased risk of injury because of a hazard which originated on the employer’s premises”.
In other words, did the employer’s stairs increase the employee’s risk of injury? In two cases, the WCCA said yes. It found for the employee in Roller-Dick v. CentraCare Health Syst. (employee fell on the stairs while not using the handrail despite rubber grip on the steps) and Lein v. Eventide (employee fell on stairs that appeared totally safe). Both cases have been appealed to the Supreme Court, and until the decisions come out the law on staircase injuries will still be uncertain.
Need help getting workers’ compensation for your injury? Joe Osterbauer, Esq. and the Osterbauer Law Firm stand up for injured Minnesota workers’ rights. Joe’s 27 years of workers’ compensation experience and his team’s speedy service combine to get clients the results they need. To schedule a free consultation, visit Osterbauer Law Firm online or call Joe’s office at (612) 334-3434.