Monday, March 25, 2013

Cunningham v. Shelton Security Service, Inc. case brief

Cunningham v. Shelton Security Service, Inc. case brief
46 S.W.3d 131 (Tenn. 2001)

After the trial court ruled that appellee employee's heart attack was not compressible because the stress he had just experienced before the attack was not extraordinary, the Tennessee Special Workers' Compensation Panel reversed, finding sufficient evidence of causation to warrant a complete trial. Appellants, the employer and its insurer, sought review.

OVERVIEW: Appellee, a security guard, told young men he caught trying to shoplift to leave the store. The men cursed him, yelled at him, and threatened to come back and kill him. A short time later, appellee complained of discomfort, went outside, and passed out in his car. He died at the hospital; his estate sought workers' compensation benefits. At trial, the emergency room doctor testified that appellee died of cardiac arrest, precipitated by the confrontation. After appellee rested, the trial court dismissed, relying on testimony from appellee's co-worker that such verbal confrontations occurred at least once a week, and hence were not unusual compared to appellee's ordinarily job-related stress.
-The intermediate appellate court reversed, finding sufficient evidence of causation to warrant a complete trial. Appellants sought review; the instant court affirmed.

That appellee not only had a verbal confrontation, but was threatened with death, supported the conclusion that his death was caused by something beyond the norm of his employment.

The trial court thus erred in dismissing, and the case was remanded for trial.

-In order to be eligible for workers' compensation benefits, an employee must suffer an injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment which causes either disablement or death.
-The statutory requirements that the injury "arise out of" and occur "in the course of" the employment are not synonymous.
-An injury occurs "in the course of" employment if it takes place while the employee was performing a duty he or she was employed to perform.
-Put another way, the injury must have substantially originated from the "time and space" of work, resulting in an injury directly linked to the work environment or work-related activities.
-Thus, the course of employment requirement focuses on the time, place and circumstances of the injury.

OUTCOME: Judgment affirmed, because the evidence preponderated against the trial court's finding that appellee's death did not arise out of his employment.

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