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The case that generates more questions than any other in this practitioner’s experience is George v. Great Eastern Food Products, Inc., 44 N.J. 44 (1965) regarding idiopathic claims. This case comes into play any time that an employee falls for reasons unknown and suffers an injury caused by the fall itself. Countless employers have had situations where employees fall at work for no work-related reason, and the question is whether or not such a fall is compensable. The George case was decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court, and it has been the leading case on this particular type of claim since 1965.
The facts are very simple. Mr. George worked for Great Eastern and became dizzy at work probably related to some personal cardiovascular condition. That led him to fall to the concrete floor and fracture his skull. He died from the skull fracture, and his widow filed a dependency claim. Mr. George did not strike any object while falling, and he did not trip on anything. He simply fell onto a concrete floor from a standing position.
The lower courts found that this accident was not compensable based on a number of very old workers’ compensation decisions. But the Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed in favor of the widow’s dependency claim. The Supreme Court said that an employer takes the employee as he finds him. The Court added that an accident under the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act occurs “if either the circumstance causing the injury or the result on the employee’s person was unlooked for, regardless of whether the inception or the underlying reason for the circumstance or result was personal or work connected.”
The Court viewed both the circumstance causing the injury in this case (striking the floor) and the consequence upon the employee’s person as unexpected events. Since an accident is by definition an unexpected event, the case was found compensable. The Court said, “We also completely endorse the second necessary element . . . that such an unlooked-for mishap arises ‘out of’ the employment when it is due to a condition of the employment – i.e., a risk of this employment, and that the impact with the concrete floor here clearly meets that test.”
The Supreme Court concluded with this comment; “Of course, we do not mean to intimate that an employee is entitled to compensation for some idiopathic incident in and of itself, as, for example, where one suffers a none-work connected heart attack or convulsion at work and simply dies at his desk or machine or falls to the floor and suffers no injury from the impact.” Thus the general rule that we do not pay for the underlying condition which caused the fall, but we do pay for the effects of the fall under the rule in George.
John H. Geaney, Esq., is an Executive Committee Member and a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Workers’ Compensation Group. Mr. Geaney concentrates his practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, third-party administrators, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mr. Geaney at 856.914.2063 or by e‑mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.