The woman worked at a consulting firm in a corporate office park – an anonymous job in an anonymous place. One day, as she stepped outside for a break, a snake bit her on the foot. “I felt a ting on my big toe,” she said. A baby copperhead had attached itself there.
The woman received two doses of anti-venom. She spent three days in the hospital and has since undergone physical therapy. Her company refused to pay her snake bite workers’ compensation claim. “We reported the incident to our Workers Compensation [sic] insurer,” the consulting firm said in a statement, “and have a preliminary response that the injury did not arise out of the course and scope of the Injured Worker’s [sic] employment.”
The interesting question is not whether the woman will have to pay her own snake bite workers’ compensation medical bills, but whether, because her workers’ compensation claim is denied, she can actually get much more money out of her employer’s insurers.
Who’s to blame for the snake’s presence?
A legal expert from central Florida – the CEO of workerscompensation.com – notes that the company’s refusal to pay hinges on an arcane law. To obtain payment for a workers’ compensation claim, the expert explains, a causal connection must exist “between the claimant’s injury and the conditions under which the employer requires the work to be performed.” The danger “must be peculiar to the work and not common to the neighborhood.”
A snake, it seems, would be common to the neighborhood.
Nevertheless, the expert maintains that it would have been in the company’s interest to pay the snake bite workers’ compensation claim. By not doing so, he points out, the consulting firm has left itself vulnerable to a personal injury lawsuit, which can be much more costly. (Or, for the injured woman, more lucrative.)
“Without workers’ comp,” says the expert, the company is “potentially on the hook for medical expenses, lost time and that holy grail of tort law, pain and suffering.”
It’s cheaper to pay a cheaper claim
The injured woman has hired herself a lawyer. It seems likely that she will file a new, more substantial claim.
This snake bite workers’ compensation case reveals an interesting scenario. Most employers might, if they had things their way, eliminate workers’ compensation requirements. But it is clear this hope is misguided, based on a failure to understand that workers’ compensation protects them, too.