Monday, August 20, 2012

Rodriguez Court of Appeals case on falls

Just a few days ago the Colorado Court of Appeals decided the Rodriguez workers comp case. In this case the claimant
was injured in a fall descending the stairs to her office. The employer initially admitted liability for disability but then sought to withdraw its admission of liability arguing the injuries did not arise out of the employment. A CT scan found unruptured brain aneurysms but it was determined the fall did not come from the aneurysms but was unexplained. The judge found the claim to be not compensable because the fall was unexplained. The hearing judge recognized that the employer bore the burden in proving non-compensability and it did so when the fall was determined to be unexplained. Claimant appealed and it was affirmed by the panel leading to the Court of Appeals decision when the claimant appealed again to a higher court. The court said the burden being on the employer the fact it was unexplained was a failure of proof. Essentially the burden of proof was on the employer since they had admitted liability and that burden requires more then saying the fall was unexplained. All claimants should be aware that unexplained falls are usually not compensable because normally the burden is on the claimant to show the injury was work related. However here the employer had the burden when it admitted liability. Clearly it appears the court is saying the burden you have is a real one and there must be evidence to carry that burden. A lack of explanation is not good enough. To me falling on stairs is usually work related but it is important to have an explanation of what happened. You might return to the scene of any fall if you are worried. Perhaps the traction is a problem or the angle or the step itself may be a problem. Fortunately in this case the claimant was lucky not to have it contested where the burden would be hers to prove. In many cases the other side disputes or contests the claim. If at all possible a claimant should have an attorney to handle such contested claims because they are often tough cases to win. UPDATE: This case went to the Colorado Supreme Court and while affirming the decision the court went further so see my post of February 4, 2014.

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