Missouri Supreme Court addresses R.S.Mo. 287.020(2) in Its Denial of Workers’ Compensation Benefits

In its Opinion issued May 29, 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission’s award of workers’ compensation benefits to an employee who was injured in an office kitchen after making coffee. Johme v. St. John’s Mercy Healthcare, No. SC92113 (Mo. banc 2012).

“Sandy Johme was employed by St. John’s Mercy Healthcare as a billing representative.” Id. at p. 2. “It was customary in the office that the employee who took the last cup of coffee would make another pot of coffee.” Id. “Consistent with her office’s policies, Johme remained ‘clocked-in’ to her job during her coffee break and while making coffee.” Id. Johme was injured when she fell in the office kitchen after she made the coffee. Id. at 3.
“Johme sought workers’ compensation benefits related to her fall.” Id. at 4. An administrative law judge denied her claim finding she “was not performing her [work] duties at the time of her fall at work. [She] just fell and she would have been exposed to the same hazard or risk in her normal [nonemployment] life”.

Id.

Johme appealed this decision to the Commission who overturned it finding that “coffee in the office kitchen was provided by St. John’s for use by its employees, that employees were not required to ‘clock out’ before getting coffee, and that it is customary for the employee who took the last cup of coffee to make a new pot”. Id. at 4-5. “The Commission found that Johme’s injury was compensable in workers’ compensation after applying the ‘personal comfort doctrine’ together with the requirements of section 287.020.3(2).” Id. at 7. “Because it determined that Johme’s act of making coffee was ‘incidental to and related to her employment,’ the Commission found that it did not need to determine under section 287.020.3(2)(b) whether Johme would have been equally exposed to the hazard or risk that caused her injury during her normal non-employment life.” Id. St. John’s appealed this ruling.

In its review, the Missouri Supreme Court found that Johme’s injury would be compensable in workers’ compensation “only if it arose out of and in the course of her employment pursuant to section 287.020.3(2)”. Id. at 9. Recognizing the legislature’s intent, the Court strictly construed the provisions of section 287.020.3(2). Id. at 10. The issue was confined to the application of this subsection which instructs that Johme’s injury “shall be deemed to arise out of and in the course of [her] employment only if … it [did] not come from a hazard or risk unrelated to [her] employment to which [she] would have been equally exposed outside of and unrelated to [her] employment in [her] normal employment life”. Id. citing sec. 287.020.3(2)(b) and Miller v. Missouri Highway & Transportation Commission, 287 S.W.3d 671 (Mo. banc 2009).

The Court found Miller’s holding controlling and decided that there was no evidence showing Johme was not equally exposed to the cause of injury outside the workplace. Id. at 13. “Johme’s injury was not compensable in workers’ compensation because she failed to show that her injury ‘[arose] out of and in the course of [her] employment’ as mandated by section 287.020.3(2). Id. at 14.
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