New Minnesota Supreme Court Decision: STANDARD OF REVIEW – Kristel Kubis v. Community Memorial Hospital Association, A16-0361 (Minn. June 28, 2017)

STANDARD OF REVIEW – Kristel Kubis v. Community Memorial Hospital Association, A16-0361 (Minn. June 28, 2017)

 

In this case, Kubis (“Employee”) sustained an injury at work while rushing up a staircase at Community Memorial Hospital (“Employer”). The matter proceeded to a Hearing. The issue before the compensation judge was whether her injury arose out of and in the course of her employment. During the Hearing, the Employee testified that she needed to go up to the second floor to complete a report and clock out. In conflicting pieces of testimony, she stated that she rushed up the stairs because she was “afraid of the overtime” and “wanted to report off to the next crew.” In the weeks leading up to her fall on the staircase, there was some discussion by her Employer regarding limiting “unnecessary overtime” for all employees. However, this Employee had been authorized to work overtime to complete her documentation in the past. Additionally, she had worked overtime in 10 of the 13 pay periods preceding her fall. There was nothing hazardous about the staircase itself according to an expert report submitted by the Employer and Insurer. The compensation judge dismissed the Employee’s claim and found that she failed to establish that her injury was caused by an increased risk that arose out of her employment. Most importantly, the compensation judge found that her “claim that she was rushing up the stairs because she felt pressured to do so because of the hospital’s policy encouraging employee’s [sic] to log out on a timely basis at the end of their shifts is not credible.”

 

The matter was appealed to the WCCA, and it reversed the compensation judge’s decision. The WCCA reasoned that the Employee’s split motivation of prompt report to the oncoming shift established an increased risk that arose out of her employment. The case was appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

 

The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the WCCA’s decision and reinstated the ruling by the compensation judge. The Court held that the WCCA failed to adhere to the appropriate standard of review, which is found in Hengemuhle. The WCCA cannot substitute its view of the evidence as long as the compensation judge’s findings are supported by substantial evidence. Ultimately, the Court held that the WCCA substituted its own credibility determination of the Employee in this matter and decided that the compensation judge was incorrect. This is improper under the Hengemuhle standard of review.

 

Notably, this case was a 4-3 decision. The Minnesota Supreme Court did not analyze the increased risk test, as the case was solely decided by the standard of review issue described above. However, the dissent notes that Minnesota should consider adopting the “positional-risk test” instead of the increased risk test. This may be an interesting development in the future should the Minnesota Supreme Court decide to hear this issue.

 

The full decision can be found HERE