4/8/2016: Major Appellate Victory for F&P’s Fitzpatrick in United Airlines Case

Lynn Fitzpatrick, managing principal of our Herndon, Virginia office recently achieved a major victory at the Virginia Court of Appeals in a case involving the “arising out of the employment” defense. In United Airlines v. Bryan Andrew Taylor, 16 Vap UNP 1169154 (2016), the injured worker suffered a right knee injury while ascending jet bridge steps in the course of his employment as an airline ramp agent. In his right hand he carried a thirty-pound baby stroller, and in his left hand a five-pound umbrella-style baby stroller. Mr. Taylor testified that his knee simply “popped” when he landed on the third step. He fell backwards and was subsequently diagnosed with a patellar dislocation. He did not specifically state that the weight or bulk of the strollers caused his injury. Of significance is the fact that he had experienced two prior right patellar dislocations in his teenage years.

The Full Commission had found that Mr. Taylor’s right knee injury did arise out of the employment based on the “inference” that the weight and bulk of the strollers caused or contributed to the injury (despite the fact that the claimant did not testify to such). On appeal to the Court of Appeals, Fitzpatrick argued on behalf of the employer that because there was no defect in the jet bridge stairs, and there was no medical opinion containing a causal connection between the conditions of the employment and the injury, the Full Commission erred in “inferring” a causal connection.

The Court of Appeals agreed, reversing the Award of benefits and holding that the evidence did not support a finding that the injury arose out of the employment. While the Full Commission was permitted to draw inferences from the evidence, the inference drawn in this case did not extend beyond the level of speculation.   This decision provides employers with a weapon against such Commission inferences which are not properly grounded in supportable evidence.

Should you have any questions about this decision or any other aspect of Virginia workers’ compensation law, please do not hesitate to contact Lynn Fitzpatrick (lfitzpatrick@fandpnet.com or 571.612.5933 for additional information.