The 8 Hour Work Day: Is It a Real Piece of Work?

Recently, the Court of Appeals of Virginia decided City of Charlottesville v. Sclafani, Record No. 1815-19-2 (2020). Mr. Sclafani was a police officer with the City of Charlottesville. After participating in an eight-hour SWAT training session, he felt pain in his left shoulder and left arm. During the entire session, he was acting in the role of a “take down guy” – the suspect who was taken to the ground, handcuffed, and brought back up to his feet.

There was a lunch hour between the four-hour morning session and the four-hour afternoon session. Mr. Sclafani testified that he experienced problems during the four hours before lunch. At some point during the afternoon session, he testified he experienced a “tweak” but no pain. He first experienced pain in his shoulder when he was in his car after the training ended. He confirmed that at no point did he experience a “pop” or other sudden onset of pain during the workday.

The Deputy Commissioner held that Sclafani had not proven that an “injury” occurred within any reasonably bounded time frame, as the evidence did not establish any specific time within the entire eight-hour training in which the injury occurred. The Full Commission reversed the Deputy Commissioner’s Opinion declaring that an eight-hour period was temporally precise to support the finding of an injury by accident.

The Court of Appeals decided to remand the case to the Full Commission holding that an eight-hour period is not a narrow enough period in which to find an injury by accident. The Opinion directed the Full Commission to make further findings of fact to determine whether a shorter period could be found in the record in which to establish the claimed injury with more precision.

The Full Commission, in a split decision, held that Sclafani sustained a non-cumulative injury during the last four hours of training. Thereafter, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Full Commission’s Opinion that the injury occurred during the post-lunch training session which was deemed temporally precise to establish a compensable injury.

Presently, Sclafani is being appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court.

The Opinion issued in Sclafani has great precedential value for the future of workers’ compensation law in Virginia. The Full Commission and Court of Appeals have expanded the definition of an injury by accident over the years and Sclafani is the most recent of its progeny. If the Supreme Court accepts the petition for appeal, we will finally gain clarity on what is a cumulative/gradual injury and what constitutes a temporally precise injury. The anticipated ruling is significant because it will directly impact how we evaluate compensability in each workers’ compensation case moving forward.

We will continue to provide you with updates on this significant case as it makes its way through the final phase of the appellate process.

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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