Alexander v. D.L. Sitton Motor Lines

Decision Date20 April 1993
Docket NumberNo. 75017,75017
PartiesRaymond V. ALEXANDER, Appellant, v. D.L. SITTON MOTOR LINES, et al., Respondents.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Charles Buchanan, Joplin, for appellant.

Ronald G. Sparlin, Joplin, for respondents.

LIMBAUGH, Judge.

In this workers' compensation case, we revisit the scope and application of the terms from § 287.120.1, RSMo 1986, 1 which allow recovery for injuries sustained in an accident "arising out of" the claimant's employment. For the first time we do so in the context of the so-called "idiopathic fall." Our jurisdiction is set out in Article V, § 10, of the Missouri Constitution.

Raymond V. Alexander filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits following an injury he sustained while employed by D.L. Sitton Motor Lines [Sitton]. After a hearing, recovery was denied by an administrative law judge of the Division of Workers' Compensation. The ruling was affirmed by the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission [Commission] and in turn, by the Court of Appeals, Southern District, after which this Court granted transfer. We reverse the decision of the Commission denying compensation and remand for a determination of the amount of benefits.

On September 7, 1988, Alexander drove a tractor-trailer truck for Sitton from Bohannon, Texas to Sapulpa, Oklahoma to pick up a preloaded trailer that he was to deliver to Wichita, Kansas. In order to connect his tractor to the loaded trailer, he first had to disengage the trailer he had been pulling. To do so, Alexander climbed onto a platform behind the tractor-cab to uncouple two hoses and an electrical line attached to the trailer at a height of approximately 9 inches from the top of the platform. The platform itself was approximately 1 1/2 to 2 feet wide, 4 feet long, and 4 to 4 1/2 feet high. Alexander stooped down on the platform and disconnected the two air hoses without difficulty. The electrical line proved to be more of a problem to remove, and Alexander, still crouching, had to wriggle the line before it came free. Alexander then stood up and turned around to place the hoses and the electrical line on a post at the back of the cab. In the process, he became dizzy, lost his balance, and fell off the platform onto the ground below, sustaining the injuries for which he now seeks compensation.

On appeal, Alexander claims that the Commission erred in holding that the accident did not arise out of his employment, 2 and more specifically, that the Commission erred (1) in finding that the dizzy spell was idiopathic, 3 (2) in finding that work on the platform was not a "greater hazard" than is common to the general public, and (3) in concluding that an "idiopathic fall" can never arise out of one's employment unless the conditions of the employment subject an employee to a "greater hazard."

Under Article V, § 18, of the Missouri Constitution we review the decision of the Commission to see that it is supported by competent and substantial evidence on the record as a whole. In that review, we defer to the Commission on issues involving the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given testimony, and we acknowledge that the Commission may decide a case "upon its disbelief of uncontradicted and unimpeached testimony." Ricks v. H.K. Porter, Inc., 439 S.W.2d 164 (Mo.1969). Questions of law, of course, are the proper subject of our review. Section 287.495.1, RSMo 1986.

The Commission found that the dizziness was idiopathic and that there was no "causal connection between the circumstances of the claimant's employment and the onset of the dizzy spell." It therefore concluded that the accident did not arise out of his employment. The Commission's finding that the dizzy spell was idiopathic was based on its determination that Alexander's account of the cause of the dizziness was not credible. Alexander suggested various reasons why he became dizzy, and only upon cross-examination did he forward his opinion that the dizziness was caused by rising from a crouched position after disconnecting the hoses and electrical line. Although we do not disturb the finding of the Commission that the dizzy spell was idiopathic, we disagree with the conclusion that the accident did not arise out of his employment.

As legal support for its holding, the Commission relied on the factually similar case of Collins v. Combustion Engineering Co., 490 S.W.2d 394 (Mo.App.1973). In Collins, an employee was injured when he fell off a ladder from the height of 4 feet. The Commission found, and the court of appeals agreed, that the fall arose out of a dizzy spell that had no causal connection to the conditions of employment. The Commission also determined

that the height from which employee fell probably contributed to the extent of the injuries suffered, but it was not a contributing cause to the fall itself. The question whether or not the injury arose "out of" the employment can not and does not depend in any respect upon the height from which the employee fell or the extent of the injuries he received as the result of becoming dizzy.

Collins, 490 S.W.2d at 396.

The court of appeals then concluded that "[i]njuries suffered in an idiopathic fall are not compensable because they do not arise out of and in the course of the employment as required under § 287.120, subd. 1." Id.

To this rule of noncompensability of idiopathic falls, Collins recognizes one exception: where evidence shows that a hazard or special risk connected with the employment and not common to the general public contributed to the injuries, recovery is allowed. Id., citing Howard v. Ford Motor Co., 363 S.W.2d 61, 67 (Mo.App.1962). In denying recovery, the Collins court concluded that the employee's work on a ladder at a height of 4 feet was not a "greater hazard."

It is well settled that an accident arises "out of" the employment "when there is a causal connection between the conditions under which the work is required to be performed and the resulting injury." 4 Kloppenburg v. Queen Size Shoes, Inc., 704 S.W.2d 234, 236 (Mo. banc 1986); quoting Dehoney v. B-W Brake Co., 271 S.W.2d 565, 566 (Mo.1954).

In our view, Collins misapplies the "causal connection" test by focusing solely on the initial or precipitating cause of the accident without fair regard for conditions of the workplace that contribute to cause the accident or exacerbate the injuries. Under Collins, once the Commission determines that the initial cause of the accident is idiopathic, the entire incident is characterized as idiopathic. An accident, however, should not be defined merely by its precipitating cause, but instead by the entire...

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    ...include Wells v. Brown, 33 S.W.3d 190 (Mo. banc 2000); Cox v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 920 S.W.2d 534 (Mo. banc 1996); and Alexander v. D.L. Sitton Motor Lines, 851 S.W.2d 525 (Mo. banc 1993). 7. In interpreting 287.120's exclusivity provisions and the 2005 amendments to the definitions of “accid......
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    ...compensation was available for such injuries provided that workplace conditions were a contributing factor. Alexander v. D.L. Sitton Motor Lines, 851 S.W.2d 525, 527 (Mo. banc 1993). Moreover, in a common law tort action, there is no defense for idiopathic conditions. The complete exclusion......
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    ...making credibility findings, the Commission may disbelieve uncontradicted and unimpeached testimony. Id. (citing Alexander v. D.L. Sitton Motor Lines , 851 S.W.2d 525, 527 (Mo. banc 1993) ). "This is especially true if there is a substantial basis from all the evidence of a finding that suc......
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    ...In Ahern v. P & H, LLC, 254 S.W.3d 129 (Mo.App. E.D.2008), this Court acknowledged Section 287.020.10 abrogated Alexander v. D.L. Sitton Motor Lines, 851 S.W.2d 525 (Mo. banc 1993), which interpreted the meaning or definition of "arising out of," despite the case not being specifically ment......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Resurrection of a dead remedy: bringing common law negligence back into employment law.
    • United States
    • Missouri Law Review Vol. 75 No. 3, June 2010
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