Ladders: A Slippery Slope

In last month’s e-blast, Scott C. Ford, Esquire, discussed Virginia’s elusive definition of an “injury by accident.” (see full article here). Yet again, the Full Commission has again expanded the definition of a compensable injury by accident, this time in the context of the extremely slippery world of ladder accidents.

In Allen v. ABF Freight System, Inc., JCN VA00001877064 (August 3, 2023) the Full Commission overturned the Deputy Commission’s holding that the claimant had failed to prove his right knee injury arose out of a risk of his employment. In Allen, the claimant, a truck driver, backed his truck up to a loading dock and then needed to use the ladder attached to his truck to descend from the loading dock to the ground. When stepping down onto the first rung, the claimant felt right knee pain. When asked what he thought caused the pain, the claimant testified “me coming down the steps” and “coming down the ladder.” Further, the claimant stated that he had nothing in his hands as he descended, he held onto the grab bar located on the side of the ladder, and he could not recall anything unusual or defective about the ladder. In other words, the claimant failed to identify any identifiable cause or mechanism of injury for his right knee pain.

Despite the claimant’s failure to testify as to such, the Commission determined that the “unusual configuration of the ladder required the claimant to step down awkwardly. As a result, he sustained a right knee injury arising out of a risk of his employment.” In making such determination, the Commission drew inferences from the configuration of the ladder, which was described as steep and narrow, and superimposed a method by which the claimant must have injured himself.

Commissioner Rapaport dissented from the Majority’s ladder analysis and finding that the injury arose out of the claimant’s employment. In his dissent, Commissioner Rapaport reminded the Majority that although the Commission enjoys the right to draw reasonable inferences, such inferences must be supported by the evidentiary record. Here, there was no evidence that any condition of the ladder contributed or caused the claimant’s right knee pain and Commissioner Rapaport warns the majority that their decision to “infer causation renders meaningless the claimant’s burden to prove the statutory precondition to compensable injury, that is ‘arising out of’ the employment.”

It is clear from both this decision and recent Commission decisions that ladder accidents involve an extremely fact-based analysis and are practically decided on an individual case by case basis. Further, this decision shows that the Commission may even infer mechanisms of injury and hazards of the particular ladder, even when the claimant does not testify as to such.

Due the complexity of these cases, we recommend that adjusters reach out to defense counsel early when faced with a ladder accident. As always, our highly skilled team of professional are available and happy to answer any questions you may have.

Should you have any questions about the issues discussed here or other legal issues, please do not hesitate to contact the lawyers at Ford Richardson.

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Posted In: E-Blast