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COATES v. THE GAP, INC., et al.




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COATES

v.

THE GAP, INC., et al.


COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA

Present: Chief Judge Fitzpatrick, Judges Frank and Clements

Record No. 1896-03-4

BRENDA D. COATES

v.

THE GAP, INC. AND

INSURANCE CO. OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA

 

MEMORANDUM OPINION[1]
PER CURIAM

NOVEMBER 12, 2003

FROM THE VIRGINIA WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

(Lawrence J. Pascal; Ashcraft & Gerel, LLP, on brief), for
appellant.

(Clinton R. Shaw, Jr.; Jordan Coyne & Savits, L.L.P., on
brief), for

appellees.

Brenda D. Coates (claimant) contends the Workers’ Compensation
Commission erred in

finding that she failed to prove she sustained an injury by
accident arising out of her employment

on June 2, 2001. Upon reviewing the record and the parties’
briefs, we conclude that this appeal

is without merit. Accordingly, we summarily affirm the
commission’s decision. Rule 5A:27.

Claimant, who worked as an associate manager at employer’s
Fair Oaks Mall store, had

suffered from back and right knee problems before June 2, 2001.
She had torn the meniscus in

her right knee, requiring surgery in November 2000 and February
2001. After she started

working for employer, she frequently complained of pain in her
right knee. She testified that

before working for employer, she had no problems with her left
knee. However, she admitted on

cross-examination that while working for employer, she had
"aches and pains" in her left knee,

but these were not similar to the pain in her right knee.

Claimant testified that on June 2, 2001, while she was unlocking
the cash register, an

associate asked her for journal tape. The journal tape was kept
in a locked drawer below the

register. Claimant took her key, bent down at the waist and
squatted to unlock the drawer.

While doing so, she placed most of her weight on her left leg
and kept her right knee straight

because she did not want to re-injure it. As she reached towards
the back of the drawer to

retrieve the journal tape, she heard a pop in her left knee.

Claimant testified that she reported the incident to her
coworkers and to Susan Massie,

the store manager. Claimant contends she left work early at
Massie’s suggestion. Claimant

sought medical care several days later from Dr. Richard L.
Gaertner, who had previously treated

her right knee problems.

In claimant’s July 27, 2001 recorded statement to the
insurance adjuster, claimant stated

that her accident occurred when she was trying to get the
journal tape from a drawer close to the

floor. She told the adjuster that she did not know how she bent
down.

Massie, who had worked for employer as a store manager since
January 2001, testified

that claimant complained about pain in her "knees" on
a regular basis. Massie saw claimant

bend and stoop in a careful manner due to her knee problems. On
June 2, 2001, claimant

reported the incident to Massie, who did not complete an
accident report at the time because

claimant had an "ongoing issue with her knees," and
the complaint was similar to prior

complaints made by claimant.

Cheryl Lawson, a sales associate, confirmed that claimant
complained of pain in her knee

before June 2, 2001. Lawson could not remember which knee;
however, she stated that after

claimant’s February 2001 knee surgery, she started complaining
that the pain in the other knee

was getting worse.

Dr. Gaertner’s medical records indicate that claimant first
complained to him of left knee

pain on January 23, 2001, when he reported a history of claimant’s
continuing right knee

problems and "increasing pain and discomfort in her left
knee." Dr. Gaertner next examined

claimant on June 6, 2001. He reported at that time that
"[t]he other day she twisted her left knee

and felt a pop in it." He ordered an MRI, which showed a
tear of the posterior horn of the

medical meniscus of the left knee. On August 1, 2001, he
performed arthroscopic surgery on

claimant’s left knee. On February 5, 2002 and December 5,
2002, in response to questions posed

by claimant’s counsel, Dr. Gaertner causally related the need
for surgery to the June 2001

incident.

Based upon this record, the commission found as follows:

Regardless of whether the claimant suffers from a

pre-existing condition, she must prove that "a condition of
the

workplace either caused or contributed to her" accident. .
. .

We have considered the record, including the testimony

and the photograph of the work area. The evidence shows that the

claimant’s left knee popped while she was bending down to

retrieve journal tape from a drawer close to the floor. We find

nothing unusual or awkward about the workplace configuration. A

drawer located close to the floor is common to the neighborhood

and does not constitute a work-related risk.

The evidence further shows that the claimant was bending

or squatting in a particular manner, holding her right leg
straight

due to pre-existing right knee problems. However, we find that

squatting in this manner to accommodate the non-work-related

right knee injury was not necessitated by any hazard or
condition

peculiar to the claimant’s employment.

"In order to recover on a workers’ compensation claim, a
claimant must prove: (1) an

injury by accident, (2) arising out of and (3) in the course of
his employment." Kane Plumbing,

Inc. v. Small, 7 Va. App. 132, 135, 371 S.E.2d 828, 830 (1988).
"The phrase . . . arising ‘out of’

refers to the origin or cause of the injury." County of
Chesterfield v. Johnson, 237 Va. 180, 183,

376 S.E.2d 73, 74 (1989).

Virginia uses the actual risk test to determine whether an
injury arises out of

employment. Vint v. Alleghany Reg’l Hosp., 32 Va. App. 60, 63,
526 S.E.2d 295, 297 (2000).

"The mere happening of an accident at the workplace, not
caused by any work related risk or

significant work related exertion, is not compensable."
Plumb Rite Plumbing Serv. v. Barbour, 8

Va. App. 482, 484, 382 S.E.2d 305, 306 (1989). A claimant must
establish "that the conditions

of the workplace or . . . some significant work related exertion
caused the injury." Id. Thus, "the

arising out of test excludes ‘an injury which comes from a
hazard to which the employee would

have been equally exposed apart from the employment. The
causative danger must be peculiar

to the work, incidental to the character of the business, and
not independent of the master-servant

relationship.’" Johnson, 237 Va. at 183-84, 376 S.E.2d at
75 (citation omitted).

The commission’s decision regarding this question involves a
mixed question of fact and

law. Southside Virginia Training Ctr. v. Shell, 20 Va. App. 199,
202, 455 S.E.2d 761, 763

(1995).

Generally, simple acts of walking, bending, or turning, without
other contributing

environmental factors, are not risks of employment. Southside
Virginia Training Ctr. v. Ellis, 33

Va. App. 824, 829, 537 S.E.2d 35, 37 (2000).

Claimant’s testimony, her recorded statement, and the
photographs of the work area, as

well as the medical histories, provide ample support for the
commission’s factual findings. The

evidence established that claimant heard a pop in her left knee
when she simply bent down and

squatted to open a locked drawer that was close to the floor. No
evidence showed that she was

required to assume an "awkward position" while bending
due to a condition of her workplace or

that she engaged in any "unusual exertion." In
addition, unlike many of the cases relied upon by

claimant, in this case, no evidence showed that claimant was
required to work in a bent or

awkward position for any specific period of time as a condition
of her employment. Claimant’s

act of bending and squatting to open the drawer that was close
to the floor was neither unusual,

awkward, nor strenuous, but was a risk to which the general
public is exposed. Claimant’s

choice to hold her right leg in a certain manner when she bent
down was caused by her need to

accommodate her pre-existing non-work-related right knee
condition, not by any condition or

hazard associated with her workplace.

Accordingly, we affirm the commission’s finding that claimant
failed to prove that she

sustained an injury by accident arising out of her employment on
June 2, 2001.

Affirmed.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1]Pursuant to
Code ? 17.1-413, this opinion is not designated for publication.


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