The Missouri Supreme Court on March 17 unanimously affirmed a decision to deny workers’ compensation to a woman who could not provide sufficient evidence that safety hazards in a high school hallway caused her to slip and sustain numerous injuries.
The court upheld a Labor and Industrial Relations Commission decision that claimant Maral Annayeva did not indicate that her fall was caused by hallway conditions. Missouri’s Workers’ Compensation Act stipulates that claimants must demonstrate their injuries stemmed from a workplace accident caused by a hazard that workers would not be equally exposed to in their private lives.
Annayeva’s attorney, Dean Christianson of Schuchat, Cook & Werner, said a fall hazard was created by the lack of floor mats at the entrance from an icy, salt-covered parking lot. But the Supreme Court said the commission didn’t find that explanation persuasive.
“Because it did not believe Annayeva’s testimony, the Commission concluded she had failed to carry her burden of convincing the Commission that her injury arose out of or in the course of her employment,” Judge Zel M. Fischer wrote in the court’s opinion.
The Supreme Court heard the case in February, back-to-back with another workers’ compensation case that remains to be decided.
The state has a high standard for worker’s compensation. In Miller v. Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission in 2009, a road worker whose knee popped while walking to his truck was denied workers’ compensation because his knee was at equal risk of popping while walking outside of work. The court drew on Miller in Johme v. St. John’s Mercy Healthcare in 2012. In that case, compensation was denied to a hospital employee who broke her pelvis after falling while standing at a coffeemaker, as the accident wasn’t connected to work duties.
Annayeva was working as teacher when she entered Roosevelt High School on a snowy Jan. 8, 2013, and slipped on the linoleum floor, landing on her hands and knees. Annayeva completed an accident report in which she did not indicate a direct cause of the fall, according to court documents.
She was taken to the emergency room at St. Mary’s Hospital for back and knee pain, and she returned to the ER the next day with similar complaints. She was referred to Concentra, which provided her with a knee brace and ordered physical therapy that she attended twice.
Annayeva sought additional treatments such as injections, X-rays, physical therapy, spinal adjustments, an MRI and water therapy, along with other tests and medications.
She soon had difficulty teaching and left work. She did not return until the next school year in August 2013, when she taught for only two days before leaving due to pain.
Annayeva testified to experiencing pain in her legs, back, head, right thigh, right hip, neck, arms, right shoulder and fingers. She also complained of breathing, stomach and liver problems, anxiety, depression and other issues.
The court affirmed the administrative law judges’ findings that Annayeva’s medical evidence relied on her subjective descriptions, and she provided no objective evidence that those issues resulted from the fall.
Two doctors testified that Annayeva’s unexplained pain stemmed from somatic symptom disorder, according to previous reporting. Christianson said the psychiatric disorder was a result of the accident, and he was disappointed that his client’s complaints were not deemed credible despite the findings of medical experts.