Even though the claimant’s injury arose during the course of his employment, he was correctly denied workers’ compensation benefits because the injury did not arise out of his employment as a plumber.
There was no evidence that the circumstances under which he stepped from the back door of his van and injured his knee would support “the conclusion that a ‘work-related risk or significant work-related exertion’ caused the claimant’s injury.”
“The injury unquestionably arose in the course of the claimant’s employment, but the facts in the record surrounding how he exited the van and what work-related factors might have contributed to his injury are virtually nonexistent.
“The claimant explained that he ‘got in the van through the back door,’ collected the necessary ‘stuff,’ and returned to ‘the back.’ He then ‘set down [his] tray’ but ‘still [had] stuff in [his] hand’ as he stepped out of the van.
“The claimant gave no testimony about the height from which he stepped out of the van and made clear that he ‘set down [his] tray’ before doing so. Although he indicated that he ‘still [had] stuff in [his] hand’ when he ‘stepped out,’ he did not elaborate regarding what he was holding or how large or heavy the items were. Nor did he establish that the size or weight of the items might have had a role in causing his injury, such as by throwing him off balance as he left the vehicle or causing him to experience a more significant impact with the ground than usual.
“In fact, to the contrary, the claimant testified that the manner in which he exited the van was ‘normal,’ testimony that he gave on both direct examination and cross-examination. Finally, his testimony about the nature of the repair job itself was that it was ‘a simple reconnect underneath the kitchen sink,’ which also does not compel the conclusion that he was carrying heavy tools, parts, or other equipment.
“The deputy commissioner, although crediting the claimant as an ‘entirely reliable’ and ‘credible’ witness, outlined the types of evidence that could have helped to establish that his injury arose ‘out of’ his employment but were absent from the record. He noted that the claimant did not suggest that he ‘stepped down from an unusual height’ or that some other ‘environmental condition’ or ‘complicating feature originating with work,’ such as ‘uneven pavement, an awkward or confined setting, insufficient light, distraction, [or] required pace,” contributed to cause the injury.
“The deputy commissioner pointed to the absence of evidence that the claimant’s act of holding his ‘tools and supplies as he moved … contributed to the “twinge”’ in his left knee. He specifically noted that the claimant ‘did not describe the materials.’ He also observed that the claimant ‘did not suggest they were heavy [and] add[ed] to his exertion’ or that they were ‘cumbersome [and] increase[ed his] risk of a … misstep.’
“The deputy commissioner further pointed out that the claimant ‘characterized’ his action in ‘stepping down from the van’s rear door as simply “normal.”’ Based on the record before him, the deputy commissioner concluded that the claimant failed to meet his evidentiary burden.
“On review, the Commission recognized its authority to draw reasonable inferences from the evidence, and it too concluded that the record was insufficient to permit it to infer that ‘any work-related risk or significant work-related exertion’ caused the injury. The Commission explicitly rejected what it characterized as the claimant’s invitation to ‘“imagine a person with tools in one hand and plumbing materials in the other, maneuvering out of the back of a work van by stepping down from an elevated height[,]” thus creating a risk of the employment.’ (Emphasis added).
“Based on the record before us, we hold that the Commission did not err in refusing to draw speculative inferences from the evidence and concluding that the claimant failed to meet his burden of proof. … As explained in detail by the deputy commissioner, the record does not indicate the height of the step required to exit the van or what the claimant was carrying, and the claimant testified that his exit was ‘normal.’ In light of the sparse record and the degree of deference owed to the Commission’s factual findings, we conclude that the Commission did not err by ruling that the claimant failed to prove that his injury arose out of his employment.”
Reynolds v. Falletta Enterprises, Inc., et al., Record No. 0796-20-3, Jan. 26, 2021. CAV (Decker) from the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Comm’n. Hannah Bowie for appellant, Brian M. Frame for appellees. VLW 021-7-010, 10 pp. Unpublished.