Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams, No. 1D17-96

CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)
Writing for the CourtWinsor, J.
Citation271 So.3d 1133
Parties SEDGWICK CMS and The Hartford/Sedgwick CMS, Appellants, v. Tammitha VALCOURT-WILLIAMS, Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. 1D17-96
Decision Date05 April 2019

271 So.3d 1133

SEDGWICK CMS and The Hartford/Sedgwick CMS, Appellants,
v.
Tammitha VALCOURT-WILLIAMS, Appellee.

No. 1D17-96

District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District.

April 5, 2019
Rehearing Denied May 30, 2019


ON HEARING EN BANC

Winsor, J.

Tammitha Valcourt-Williams, a workers' compensation claimant, tripped over her dog while reaching for a coffee cup in her kitchen. Because she had a work-from-home arrangement, and because her fall occurred during working hours, Valcourt-Williams sought workers' compensation benefits. The Judge of Compensation Claims determined the injury was compensable, concluding that the work-from-home arrangement meant the employer "imported the work environment into the claimant's home and the [c]laimant's home into the work environment." But the question is not whether a claimant's "home environment" becomes her "work environment"; the question is whether the employment—wherever it is—"necessarily exposes a claimant to conditions which substantially contribute to the risk of injury." Sentry Ins. Co. v. Hamlin , 69 So.3d 1065, 1068 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011) (citing Acker v. Charles R. Burklew Constr. , 654 So.2d 1211 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995) ). Here, the relevant risk was that the claimant might trip over her dog while reaching for a coffee cup in her kitchen. That risk exists whether the claimant is at home working or whether she is at home not working. It existed before Valcourt-Williams took her job, and it will exist after her employment ends (so long as she maintains a home with a dog). Because the risk did not arise out of the employment, we must reverse.

Valcourt-Williams was a workers' compensation claims adjuster for Sedgwick

271 So.3d 1135

CMS, an appellant here. She was assigned to Sedgwick's Lake Mary office, but Sedgwick permitted her to work from her home in Sierra Vista, Arizona. Because of the different time zones, Valcourt-Williams began work at 4 a.m. local time to meet the Lake Mary office's 7 a.m. start time. On the day of the accident, Valcourt-Williams had been working three hours when she went downstairs for a cappuccino. As she reached to get a cup, she fell over one of her two dogs. The fall resulted in knee, hip, and shoulder injuries, as well as a workers' compensation claim. Sedgwick denied the claim, contending that the injuries did not arise out of the employment. After a hearing, the JCC sided with Valcourt-Williams, and Sedgwick appealed. The relevant facts are undisputed, and we review de novo the JCC's application of law to those facts. Aills v. Boemi , 29 So.3d 1105, 1108 (Fla. 2010).

Employers must provide workers' compensation benefits when employees sustain injuries from accidents "arising out of work performed in the course and the scope of employment." § 440.09(1), Fla. Stat. (2016). Accidents occur "in the course and the scope of employment" when they occur "in the period of [ ] employment, at a place where [the employee] would reasonably be, while fulfilling her duties." Bryant v. David Lawrence Mental Health Ctr. , 672 So.2d 629, 631 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996). Here, the parties agree that Valcourt-Williams's injuries occurred in the course and scope of her employment: the injury was during work hours, her home was where she "would reasonably be," and her coffee break was a permissible "comfort break," see Bayfront Med. Ctr. v. Harding , 653 So.2d 1140, 1142 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995) (noting that "a worker's attendance to personal comfort during a refreshment break ... does not ... remove the worker from the course and scope of his employment" (marks omitted) ). "Course and scope" is not the issue here.

The issue here is whether the injury was "arising out of" the employment. See Southern Bell Tel. & Tel. Co. v. McCook , 355 So.2d 1166, 1167-68 (Fla. 1977) (noting "separate elements" of "in the course" and "arising out of" employment); Sentry Ins. , 69 So.3d at 1070 (workers' compensation does not cover accidents that occur in course and scope but that do not arise out of employment). As the Florida Legislature specified, " ‘[a]rising out of’ pertains to occupational causation. An accidental injury or death arises out of employment if work performed in the course and scope of employment is the major contributing cause of the injury or death." § 440.02(36), Fla. Stat.; accord Strother v. Morrison Cafeteria , 383 So.2d 623, 628 (Fla. 1980) ("[T]o be compensable, an injury must arise out of employment in the sense of causation and be in the course of employment in the sense of continuity of time, space, and circumstances."). More simply, the "arising out of" limitation "requires that the risks that caused [c]laimant's accident and injuries [ ] be work-related." Sentry Ins. , 69 So.3d at 1068. An accident is thus compensable only if "the employment necessarily expose[d] claimant to conditions that would substantially contribute to the risk of injury and to which the claimant would not normally be exposed during his nonemployment life." Acker v. Charles R. Burklew Const. , 654 So.2d 1211, 1212 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995) ; accord Glasser v. Youth Shop , 54 So.2d 686, 687-88 (Fla. 1951) (finding injury did not arise out of employment because claimant "was not on the stairs because of his employment; he would have been there in any event, regardless of whether he had brought his work home"); Medeiros v. Residential Cmtys. of Am. , 481 So.2d 92, 93 (Fla. 1st DCA 1986) ;

271 So.3d 1136

Grenon v. City of Palm Harbor Fire Dist. , 634 So.2d 697, 699 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994) ("The employment must, in some way, contribute an ‘increased risk’ of injury peculiar to that employment; otherwise, the statutory requirement that the injury ‘arise out of employment’ would be eliminated.").

This court has not hesitated to apply the "arising out of" limitation where workplace injuries flowed from risks unrelated to an employee's work. In Medeiros v. Residential Communities of America , for example, we held that if someone is injured at work after fainting—but would have fainted just the same had she not been at work—the resulting injury is not compensable. 481 So.2d at 93. The claimant in Medeiros could not succeed because she could "not demonstrate[ ] that her physical surroundings on the job in any way contributed to the risk of injury any more than they would have in non-employment life." Id. That same rule applies whether the injury follows fainting, see id. , a heart attack, or—like here—a fall, see, e.g., Leon Cty. Sch. Bd. v. Grimes , 548 So.2d 205, 208 (Fla. 1989) (finding fall noncompensable because claimant's "employment in no way contributed to her injury"); Duval Cty. Sch. Bd. v. Golly , 867 So.2d 491, 494 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004) ("[W]e cannot say that a fall to a level concrete floor is automatically compensable, irrespective of the cause of the fall."); Hernando Cty. Sch. Bd. v. Dokoupil , 667 So.2d 275, 277 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995) ("The fact that the claimant was in the course and scope of his employment when he fell is insufficient; there must be some finding that the employment created an increased risk of the fall itself or of the injuries which resulted.").

Regardless of the type of injury, compensability always turns on whether the employment led to the risk—whether there was "occupational causation," § 440.02(36), Fla. Stat. In other words, it is not enough to say this was a "workplace trip-and-fall" because there is no statutory trip-and-fall exception. Whether the accident is a fall—or anything else—a claimant cannot prevail unless there was occupational causation, a risk not existent in the claimant's "non-employment life." Medeiros , 481 So.2d at 93 ; accord Glasser , 54 So.2d at 687 ("Since industry must carry the burden, there must then be some causal connection between the employment and the injury, or it must have had its origin in some risk incident to or connected with the employment, or have followed from it as a natural consequence."). In Valcourt-Williams's case, there is no such risk. Instead, it is undisputed that features of Valcourt-Williams's "non-employment life"—her dog, her kitchen, her reaching for a coffee cup—caused the accident.

To adopt Valcourt-Williams's contrary view, we would have to hold that an employee's tripping over her own dog at home on a Friday is attributable to risks of employment while the same employee's tripping over the same dog at the same home on a Saturday is not. We would have to hold that a home light fixture's falling on an employee in the afternoon is attributable to risks of employment while the same home light fixture's falling on the same employee in the evening is not. And in doing so, we would have to set aside the "arising out of" limitation the Legislature enacted. Cf. Southern Bell , 355 So.2d at 1168 n.3 (noting claimant's concession that the same "activity might give rise to the same [injury] if it occurred after work-hours, though in that case there would be no recovery" and concluding that, "[i]n short, [claimant] requested this Court to construe the ‘arising out of’ requirement out of the statute, for all practical purposes"); Hernando Cty. Sch. Bd. , 667 So.2d at 276-77 ("[I]f all falls onto all surfaces were compensable, the statutory requirement that the injury arise out of the

271 So.3d 1137

employment would be completely eradicated."); Grenon , 634 So.2d at 699 ("The Florida Supreme Court has expressly declined to broaden the purpose of workers'...

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10 practice notes
  • Silberberg v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sch. Bd., 1D20-75
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • February 16, 2022
    ...at home, at work or anywhere else." In turn, the JCC followed this court's en banc decision in Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams , 271 So. 3d 1133, 1136 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019) (en banc), concluding that there was no evidence that the "physical surroundings on the job in any way contributed to ......
  • Soya v. Health First, Inc., 1D21-59
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • February 21, 2022
    ...surface or configuration and noted that it was slip-resistant. The JCC denied compensability under Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams , 271 So. 3d 1133 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019) (en banc), tracking its language almost exactly in reasoning that the injury did not arise out of employment because "an......
  • Silberberg v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sch. Bd., 1D20-75
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • February 16, 2022
    ...whether at home, at work or anywhere else." In turn, the JCC followed this court's en banc decision in Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams, 271 So.3d 1133, 1136 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019) (en banc), concluding that there was no evidence that the "physical surroundings on the job in any way contribut......
  • Soya v. Health First, Inc., 1D21-59
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • February 21, 2022
    ...its surface or configuration and noted that it was slip-resistant. The JCC denied compensability under Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams, 271 So.3d 1133 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019) (en banc), tracking its language almost exactly in reasoning that the injury did not arise out of employment because "......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • Silberberg v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sch. Bd., 1D20-75
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • February 16, 2022
    ...at home, at work or anywhere else." In turn, the JCC followed this court's en banc decision in Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams , 271 So. 3d 1133, 1136 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019) (en banc), concluding that there was no evidence that the "physical surroundings on the job in any way contributed to ......
  • Silberberg v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sch. Bd., 1D20-75
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • February 16, 2022
    ...whether at home, at work or anywhere else." In turn, the JCC followed this court's en banc decision in Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams, 271 So.3d 1133, 1136 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019) (en banc), concluding that there was no evidence that the "physical surroundings on the job in any way contribut......
  • Soya v. Health First, Inc., 1D21-59
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • February 21, 2022
    ...surface or configuration and noted that it was slip-resistant. The JCC denied compensability under Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams , 271 So. 3d 1133 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019) (en banc), tracking its language almost exactly in reasoning that the injury did not arise out of employment because "an......
  • Soya v. Health First, Inc., 1D21-59
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • February 21, 2022
    ...its surface or configuration and noted that it was slip-resistant. The JCC denied compensability under Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams, 271 So.3d 1133 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019) (en banc), tracking its language almost exactly in reasoning that the injury did not arise out of employment because "......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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