Odd Stepwell Cited in Workers’ Comp Case

Posted on December 1, 2002

CASE GRAYSON COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD AND FRANKLIN INSURANCE CO. v. DORIS GAYE CORNETT VENUE Court of Appeals of Virginia, decided Nov. 26, 2002 SUMMARY A school bus driver sought workers’ compensation for an injury suffered while exiting her bus. The Workers’ Compensation Commission in Virginia reversed a deputy commissioner and awarded benefits to the employee, causing the employer to appeal. BACKGROUND Doris Cornett was injured as she stepped off her bus on July 26, 1999. Her employer, Grayson County School Board in Virginia, argued that she did not sustain the injury by accident arising from her job and that she provided no credible evidence to support her claim. The appeals court found that the bus steps were unusual. Under the circumstances, the steps presented a particular risk not encountered in ordinary use of entries, exits and walkways, and the risks involved caused the employee’s fall and injury. There was sufficient credible evidence for the commission to infer that the oddity of the step construction made the stairs a condition of the workplace that contributed to her fall and to conclude that the employee sustained an injury arising out of her employment. THE INJURIES Cornett had been employed at Grayson County Schools for nine years before the accident occurred. On the afternoon of July 26, 1999, she finished her bus route and parked the school bus in her yard, as was her standard practice. She gathered her belongings and began to exit the bus. As she descended the second step, she slipped, fell and landed outside the bus with her leg underneath her. Upon impact, Cornett heard a “pop” and suspected that her ankle was broken. She was able to move her leg from underneath her, but was unable to get up. As a result, Cornett remained on the ground for approximately 20 minutes, until her husband arrived home and found her. En route to the doctor’s office, Cornett spotted her supervisor, flagged him down and informed him of the accident. On Aug. 27, 1999, Cornett was diagnosed with a clot in her left leg, for which she was hospitalized. On Oct. 4, 1999, a bone scan of her left ankle revealed a fracture of the medial talus. THE FINDINGS On Oct. 12, 1999, Cornett filed a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Commission, seeking temporary total disability benefits for her injuries. On July 19, 2000, the deputy commissioner found Cornett’s accident did not arise out of her employment and denied her claim. Cornett appealed the decision to the full commission, which reversed the deputy commissioner’s finding. The appeals court agreed with the commission, finding that the steps were unusual and contributed to her fall.

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