Stephen Christie Successfully Defends Subsequent Employer By proving Fall at Work was “Successive Compensable Injury” Resulting From Injuries Sustained in Previous Employment

Representing retailer Dillard’s, Stephen Christie successfully defended a claim by an employee (and her previous employer, Belk) that she sustained a Successive compensable injury to her knee while working for Dillard’s, after she had previously sustained a compensable injury to the same knee while employed by Belk. In 2008 while working as a cosmetic salesperson for Belk, the employee had two separate compensable falls at work, both resulting in injuries to her knee. Subsequent to these injuries, Belk provided her with medical benefits relating to treatment of her knee injury, and she continued working for Belk until the summer of 2009, when she left Belk’s employment and began working for Dillard’s in the same capacity (cosmetic sales.) As the result of the injuries she sustained in the falls at Belk, the employee testified that she continued to experience pain in her knee, occasional instances of her knee giving out, causing her to fall, and would occasionally wear a knee brace to provide additional support.

In August 2010, after working with Dillard’s for a little over a year, the employee sustained another fall while waiting on a customer. She testified that the fall occurred just as she turned to retrieve some make-up for a customer. As it had done on numerous occasions since the falls at Belk, she testified that her knee simply gave out on her causing her to fall. She was then diagnosed with a torn meniscus in her knee and underwent arthroscopic surgery and two years later a total knee replacement.

The employee first filed suit against Belk only, claiming that her injuries were caused by her falls at Belk. Belk subsequently a motion to have the court determine whether it or Dillard’s should be found responsible, and the plaintiff then amended her complaint to add Dillard’s as a defendant. Dillard’s denied responsibility for the injuries, arguing that her fall was not caused by her employment at Dillard’s but instead was a direct result of the injuries she had sustained while working for Belk and was thus a “successive compensable injury.” Belk argued that Dillard’s should be held responsible under the theory that her fall occurred at work and was a direct result of her employment at Dillard’s.

The Circuit Court in Marshall County conducted a trial, and ruled in favor of Dillard’s finding that the fall at Dillard’s, and the resulting injuries, were a direct and natural consequence of the original injuries sustained by the employee while working for Belk and not, as asserted by Belk, caused by her work at Dillard’s. Belk was, therefore ordered to pay worker’s compensation benefits to the employee. The employee appealed to the AL Court of Civil Appeals. While it did not issue an opinion, the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.

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