The Ever-Evolving Idiopathic Defense.

AuthorTruitt, Emily J.

Many states provide an employer with the opportunity to reduce its financial exposure to workplace accidents through an "idiopathic defense," which traditionally means that, if the cause of an injury is unknown, then it should not be deemed work-related. Classic examples of an idiopathic injury include an employee who was simply walking when her knee popped or an employee with epilepsy who happened to have a seizure while standing in the office. Although workers compensation is considered a no-fault system (as opposed to liability cases, where it is required to identify some level of fault, be it negligence or otherwise), the idiopathic defense can provide employers with protection from injuries incurred in the workplace that are not truly causally connected to work.


It is important for employers to identify whether their states allow them to avail themselves of this line of defense. Past cases offer important insight for businesses in states allowing the idiopathic defense. A few states they can look to for examples are Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Ohio and South Carolina.

While employers have raised the idiopathic defense for many decades in Georgia, the seminal case of Chaparral Boats Inc. v. Heath did not arrive to the Court of Appeals until 2004. In that case, the employee was in the act of walking across her employer's premises to clock in when she experienced a pop in her knee. The facts showed she did not trip or fall as a result of a workplace condition, nor did she encounter any object.

The court concluded that the injury had not arisen out of the employee's employment as there was no evidence of a causal connection between her employment and the injury. Indeed, the court noted that her hyperextension and subsequent cartilage tearing could have occurred anywhere, regardless of the circumstances. As a result, the court held that the injury did not arise out of her employment because she had only engaged in an effort of walking--a risk she was equally exposed to apart from her employment--and did not encounter a workplace object or hazard. Her claim was thus not compensable.

Since this case, the Georgia courts have encountered many similar instances, including a nurse who twisted her knee while turning to provide a cup of water to a patient and a firefighter who stood up from her desk when directed to do so by her supervisor. These accidents were both deemed not compensable.


To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT