In a 12-2 case, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal found that an employee who tripped over her dog while working from home was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits because her injury did not arise out of her employment. Sedgwick v. Valcourt-Williams, 2019 Fla. App. LEXIS 5350, 2019 WL 1498324, at *1-2. The employee, working at home per a work-from-home arrangement with her employer, suffered an injury when she walked to the kitchen during her working hours and tripped over her dog while reaching for a cup of coffee. Id. The employer/carrier denied the claim because her injuries did not arise out of her employment. Id. at *3. At a final hearing, the Judge of Compensation Claims found the claim compensable because the employer put her work environment within her home and vice versa. Id. at *1. Finding that “the risk did not arise out of the employment,” the Court reversed the decision of the JCC. Id. at *2.
The Court centered the issue around whether the injured employee’s place of employment, whether it be at home or in a work office, necessarily exposed her to conditions that substantially contributed to her risk of injury. The Court explained that the “arising out of” limitation requires the “risks that caused the [employee’s] accident and injuries be work-related.” Id. at *4. In addition, an accident becomes compensable when the “employment necessarily exposes the employee to conditions that substantially contribute to the risk of the injury and to which the [employee] would not normally be exposed during [her] nonemployment life.” Id. at *4 (citing Acker v. Charles R. Burklew Constr., 654 So. 2d 1211, 1212 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995)). Therefore, because the “employer did not contribute to the risk that the employee would trip over her dog,” the employer was not required to cover the cost of the injury sustained. Id. at *11.
The majority opinion drew two fierce dissents, from Judge Bilbrey and Judge Makar, both expressing the broader implications that the majority opinion has on employees who work from home and trip over personal belongings. Judge Makar explained that the employer “permitted its employees to take personal comfort breaks” and in the typical work environment at the office, an injury sustained during that break would be compensable. Id. at *40 (Makar, J., dissenting). The majority clarified that the work-at-home arrangement did not immunize employers from a workers’ compensation claim because there may be situations in which “an accident on a break . . . might still arise out of employment” when the employment necessarily exposes the employee to conditions “that would substantially contribute to the risk of injury.” Id. at *11 (majority opinion) (citing Acker, 654 So. 2d at 1212).
About Meghan Bradley:
Meghan Bradley is an Associate Attorney at Boyd & Jenerette, P.A. practicing in the Jacksonville office. Ms. Bradley’s practice focuses on defending employers and insurance carriers in state workers' compensation and federal longshore claims.