Alabama Supreme Court Upholds Two Part Causation Test
Ex Parte Patsy Patton d/b/a Korner Store:
On April 22, 2011, the Alabama Supreme Court released one of the most anticipated and important workers’ compensation opinions in recent history.
In this case the employee had an admittedly unexplained fall while at work. The Trial Court granted employer’s summary judgment motion stating that the accident did not arise out of the employment. The employee appealed the ruling to the Court of Civil Appeals. The employer argued that the fall was idiopathic (peculiar to the individual) or unexplained and not work related. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed and remand the case citing Ex parte Byrom which held that the employee only need prove that the accident happened at work and no further proof that it arose out of the employment was needed. This ruling had the affect of re-writing the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act, by eliminating the "arising out of" part of the two part causation test. The employer subsequently filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari asking the Supreme Court to review the Court of Civil Appeals’ opinion.
Upon review, the Supreme Court stated that in workers’ compensation the "but for" test had been rejected in favor of the "casual connection" test. Therefore, the employee must prove a casual relationship between the injury and the employment. In doing so the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act states that the injury and or death must be the result of an accident that 1) occurred in the course of and 2) arose out of the employment.
The Supreme Court pointed out that in its ruling in Ex parte Trinity Industries, Inc. (cited by the Court of Civil Appeals) a footnote did include language that conflicted with the two part test but that the Court went on to apply the two part test for the non accidental injury in question. Therefore, the footnote cited by the Court of Civil Appeals in that case amounted to dicta and not binding authority.
The Court of Civil Appeals had also supported its opinion with language from the Supreme Court’s ruling in Ex parte Byrom. The Supreme Court stated that despite Ex parte Byrom appearing to endorse the "but for" test, they actually went on to apply the arising out of analysis. So, again, the language that referenced use of a one-part test instead of a two-part test for causation was dicta. In order to alleviate any confusion the Supreme Court stated that any language in Ex parte Byrom that is in contradiction with the plain language of the Act, requiring casual-connection to be compensable, was overruled.
The Supreme Court pointed out that the case law clearly states that the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act is to be liberally construed to achieve its "beneficent purposes." However, in doing this, the plain language of the Act can not be changed. The Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act requires that, for an injury or death to be compensable, the accident resulting in the injury must 1) occur in the course of and 2) arise out of the employment.
My Two Cents:Fortunately, the Supreme Court got it right and the two-part causation test which is clearly set forth in the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act remains intact. This is a very good day for Alabama employers.