Under the Louisiana Workers Compensation Act, an employer takes a worker as he finds him or her. A worker who is more susceptible to injury is entitled to no less protection than a healthy one.
The Louisiana Appellate Court held that employees, who are injured during the performance of their job duties, are to be provided appropriate compensation and medical care. A recent 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Decision explored workers compensation in Louisiana, and the elements necessary to obtain compensation, despite underlying health risks that may have helped create the injury in question. In Lloyd v. Shady Lake Nursing Home, the nursing home sought for the court to apply the Louisiana Worker’s Compensation Act, in order to avoid having to pay higher damages to the surviving spouse and family under a negligence or tort based remedy.
In the Margaret Caldwell case the Court focused on her injury suffered and subsequent death for their analysis. Mrs. Caldwell was a fifty-four year old woman. She was known to be suffering from morbid obesity and she worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant at the Shady Oaks Nursing Home for over twenty years. One day, as she was cleaning her station and mopping the floors, she spotted a patient out of his room. She asked him to return to his room and at this point he attacked her, striking her in the face. Immediately following the attack, Mrs. Caldwell experienced elevated blood pressure levels and was taken to East Carroll Parish Hospital. Only a few hours later she was pronounced dead. The autopsy found the immediate cause of death to be hypertensive heart disease and coronary artery disease, with the underlying cause of death being a physical blow to the face. This last portion became the ultimate point of controversy between Mrs. Caldwell’s family and Shady Oaks, as her employer attempted to rely on a specific Louisiana Revised Statute that negates workers compensation benefits for heart related illnesses or death that arises during the scope one’s employment. The court explored the meaning behind each element of workers compensation and definitional terms in order to formulate their decision.
To begin, the Louisiana Worker’s Compensation Act, provides medical help and/or compensation for injuries or possible death that occurs during the performance of one’s job duties. However, breaking this down into sections, one must understand what injury/accident legally means, and how it is measured in order to determine whether one is afforded such relief. An accident is defined by La. R.S. 23:1021(1) as follows:
“[An] unpredicted or sudden event which takes place without the cause of human culpability, and directly inflicts and damage in which the party suffers almost immediately”.
Such types of injuries are thus, protected and covered by the Worker’s Compensation Act. However, there are limitations applied to certain accidents that occur under certain circumstances, even if they occur during the performance of one’s job duties. La. R.S. 23:1021(8)(e), provides:
“Cardiac or injuries surrounding the blood vessels are not considered a tort injury that arises out of or is related to the course of one’s employment. These injuries cannot be compensated pursuant to this Chapter unless certain conditions are met which include the following:
(i) The employee’s stress level must be extraordinary and unusual in relation to that exertion experienced by the average employee in the same field of work, and
(ii) The employee’s stress level or exertion, must be correlated to that caused by his or her employment. It cannot be related to outside factors. The stress level must be directly related to the employees cardiac or injuries surrounding the blood vessel, sickness, or death.”
The Court denied Shady Oaks attempt for summary judgment, based on the tenuous argument that the patient’s act of striking Mrs. Caldwell should be considered an accident that aggravated her preexisting condition resulting in her stroke and heart attack. The defendants had not shown that the work environment was highly probable to cause extraordinary and unusual or that the physical stress during the performance of her job duties. Thus, the court next had to evaluate the work environment, and whether the incident in question was extraordinary or whether it was a normal happening for Mrs. Caldwell during the performance of her job duties.
The tragic incident that Mrs. Caldwell experienced shortly before her death was thoroughly explored by the Court. The specific patient who attacked her did not have a history of attacking nurses; however, testimony given declared such incidents of physical assault were not rare for certified nurse assistants or staff to experience. The court ultimately determined that reasonable minds could disagree as to whether or not Mrs. Caldwell experienced extraordinary or unusual bodily employment stress and whether that stress, versus her pre-existing conditions, was the predominant and major cause of her cardiac-related death. Yet, the court does not end their discussion there. The court, desiring compensation for the loss Mrs. Caldwell’s family incurred, explore an alternative avenue that is available.
Where an employee is not entitled to a remedy or compensation under the Louisiana Worker’s Compensation Act, then there is no immunity in tort for the employer. Remember, when one is afforded the worker’s compensation benefits, they have traded their right and ability to sue the employer, in tort, for negligence. Thus, if worker’s compensation is not available or obtainable, then a tort remedy is available. Her family is able to pursue an intentional tort, such as battery and assault against Shady Oaks for the acts of the patient performed against the late Mrs. Caldwell.
Therefore, there are many available legal routes and avenues to pursue if the unfortunate occurrence happens that one is physically injured or is killed during the performance of their job duties. Louisiana affords protection to its residents, desiring compensation for losses in order to promote the public policy of having an efficient administration of justice.