Minnesota Supreme Court Explicitly Adopts "Increased Risk Test" as Basis for Determining Compensable Work Injuries

Minnesota Supreme Court Explicitly Adopts "Increased Risk Test" as Basis for Determining Compensable Work Injuries

On December 26, 2013, the Minnesota Supreme Court in Dykhoff v. Xcel Energy, 2013 Minn. LEXIS 777 (lexis.com) 2013 Minn. LEXIS 777 (Lexis Advance) (Dec. 26, 2013), adopted the “increased risk test” for determining compensable work injuries. According to the Court, an injured worker must demonstrate that the employer placed him or her at an increased risk of injury beyond what the employee would experience in his or her non-work life. Further, an injured worker must prove that an injury both arose out of his or her employment and in the course of his or her employment.

In Dykhoff, the Employee was injured after falling in a hallway at work. There was no explanation for the fall, and there was nothing unusual about the floor. The Compensation Judge concluded that the floor was even and without defect. The Employer and Insurer prevailed at Hearing, but the decision was reversed by Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA). In finding for the Employee, the WCCA adopted a “work-connection” test, concluding that injuries occurring at work would be compensable regardless of whether an employee’s job duties placed that employee an increased risk of injury beyond what he or she would experience in his or her non-work life. The WCCA also noted that the “positional risk” test would be an appropriate test for determining if a work injury was compensable.

The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the WCCA and emphatically rejected the “work-connection” test and “positional risk” test. The Court concluded that the “increased risk” test was the proper test for determining if injuries that occur at work are compensable.

In rejecting the argument that an injury is compensable simply because it occurs at work, the Court also explicitly stated that the plain language of Minn. Stat. 176.021 “requires the employee to demonstrate that an injury ‘arises out of and in the course of’ the employment.” The Court unequivocally rejected the longstanding balancing test used to establish a causal connection between employment and an injury, which was first articulated in Bohlin v. St. Louis Cnty./Nopeming Nursing Home, 61 Minn. Workers’ Comp. Dec. 69 (WCCA 2000). Under the Bohlin balancing test, an Employee could establish that a work injury was compensable if one of the prongs in Minn. Stat. 176.021 was met. In other words, an injury could conceivably be compensable if it arose out of employment or in the course of employment, so long as one prong was sufficient satisfied. As the Court noted, the balancing test rendered Minn. Stat. 176.021 ineffectual, as injuries that occur at work inherently occur in the course of employment. Accordingly, the Court concluded an employee must prove that an injury both arose out of his or her employment and in the course of his or her employment. In effect, the Court determined that the statute must be applied as written, and that “arising out of” and “in the course of” is a conjunctive test.

Ultimately, this case is an important win for Minnesota employers and insurance carriers. Unexplained injuries are not compensable simply because the injury occurred while an employee was at work. The injured worker must now demonstrate that the employer placed him or her at an increased risk of injury beyond what the employee would experience in his or her non-work life. Simply being at work when an injury occurs is not sufficient. An injured worker must prove that an injury both arose out of her employment and in the course of her employment.

Tom Atchison
952-525-6953
twa@cmclaw.com