We have written before on how to determine if work injuries in Virginia are covered by the Virginia Workers Compensation Act. Even if a particular accident and injury arises out of the employment, the analysis does not stop there in many cases. Specifically, if the injured worker violates a safety rule otherwise compensable accidents may not be covered. A recent case before the Virginia Court of Appeals illustrates the point.
In Jones v. Crothall Laundry, the Virginia Court of Appeals found that the employee did not follow a safety rule that was established by his employer. Specifically, the employee worked for a laundry facility. On October 14, 2017, the employee entered an area of the laundry facility. The area that he entered had a perimeter because commercial laundry machinery existed behind the perimeter. A component of the machine pinned the employee's leg against a conveyor belt which caused injury to the employee's leg. The claimant appeared before a Deputy Commissioner who found that he violated a safety rule by not walking through a gate that was installed by the employer that would have shut down the commercial equipment. The Commission found that the employee knew of the rule and that violation of the rule caused his accident. The injured worker appealed the final decision of the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission to the Court of Appeals arguing that the employer did not enforce the rule. Unfortunately, the employee did not offer enough evidence or argument before the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission to cause the Court of Appeals to reverse the Commission's finding.
There are a couple takeaways from this case. It is important to evaluate safety rule cases in Virginia thoroughly:
- Did a safety rule exist that was known to the injured worker?
- Did the injured worker intentionally violate the rule?
- Did violation of the rule cause the accident?
- Did the employer enforce the rule?
It is important for an injured worker to find out all of the reasons why the employer believes that the employee violated a safety rule well before the hearing and for the injured worker to be able to present evidence contradicting the employer if such evidence exists. These claims are often complex and involve a detailed assessment of the employer's policies and other facts. Our firm has litigated many of these types of cases over the years. We strongly recommend seeking the advice of an attorney before attending a hearing if this issue arises.