Instead of suing his employer for negligence and having to prove duty, breach, proximate cause, and damages, a worker in Wyoming must file for worker's compensation benefits for which his employer is ultimately liable. Essentially, the workers' compensation system provides disability insurance coverage for the worker. The worker's right to benefits arises when certain conditions precedent occur, primarily, when he suffers a disabling work-related injury. Thus, the concept of fault does not enter the calculation so long as the employee is engaged in work-related activities when injured. The principles of Smith v. Husky Terminal Restaurant, Inc., look at the threshold question - whether the injury occurred while the employee was engaged in a task which is part of the employee's work. Until that requirement is satisfied, the employee does not qualify for a contractual right to worker's compensation benefits.
Appellant claimant, a certified nurse assistant for a nursing home facility, appealed an order of the Laramie County District Court, Wyoming, affirming the Wyoming Office of Administrative Hearings' (OAH) denial of her claim for workers' compensation benefits. While working the night shift, appellant claimant, a nurse at a nursing home facility, assisted a patient to the bathroom and, at some point as she was lifting the patient, the patient's wheelchair moved. In order to prevent the patient from falling, the claimant twisted and strained her back. She filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, which was denied by the hearing examiner because the claimant was injured while violating a safety regulation forbidding employees from lifting a patient classified as a "two-person lift" alone. On appeal, the court affirmed the judgment.
Is appellant precluded from a claim for workers' compensation benefits?
The court concluded that OAH properly applied the Smith test. The record contained no evidence to support the claimant's assertion that the night shift was understaffed. The claimant did not testify she had notified the facility prior to her injury about the perceived staffing problem. Although evidence showing other employees routinely violated the two-person lift policy may have supported the claimant's understaffing claim, no such evidence existed in the record. Substantial evidence supported the hearing examiner's conclusion that the facility did not knowingly accept the benefit of the claimant's violation of the two-person lift restriction.