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Benavides v. Eastern N.M. Med. Ctr. – “Wet Floor” Sign Absence Results in Higher Award

On Behalf of | Nov 20, 2014 | Georgia Work Accidents |

Every state has varying rules when it comes to workers’ compensation law, but most provide that workers’ compensation is a no-fault system and employers generally cannot face negligence litigation.That means workers don’t have to prove negligence in order to collect benefits, but neither can they sue the employer for negligent acts or omissions resulting in injury.

However, there are sometimes penalties for companies that fail to adhere to relevant state, federal and industry safety codes. These can come in the form of fines from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. In New Mexico, it can result in a 10 percent higher amount of workers’ compensation benefits paid to injured workers.

That was the issue argued in Benavides v. Eastern N.M. Med. Ctr., where an injured nurse argued that lack of a “wet sign” floor in the slick hallway of a hospital where she work constituted lack of a safety device.

Our Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers note state workers’ compensation law in New Mexico differs in that it allows for a 10 percent increase in benefits when negligence from an employer in failing to supply reasonable safety devices for worker protection results in worker injury.

According to court records, the nurse slipped and fell on a wet floor and sustained serious injuries to her leg, hip, back and neck. She began receiving temporary total disability benefits of $585 weekly. Five years later, employer filed a complaint seeking determination of worker’s permanent partial disability benefits and maximum medical improvement.

Worker filed an answer and counterclaim, which included a request for a 10 percent increase in benefits due to the fact that the hospital failed to supply a safety device (i.e., the wet floor sign) after the floor had been mopped.

Defendant hospital denied that a sign was a safety device and requested a hearing before a workers’ compensation judge.

A hospital representative testified it was standard practice to place wet floor signs in areas with spills or that had recently been mopped for purposes of warning of a potentially dangerous condition. In the past, representative said he had disciplined workers for not posting the signs when necessary.

There was no wet floor sign in the patient’s room where mopping had just occurred on the day of injury. The nurse took three steps into the room before slipping and landing on her pubic bone and twisting her torso. She remained on the floor for five minutes before being able to stand again. There were no wet floor signs in the hall or anywhere near where the fall had occurred, though several were soon placed in the area after the fall.

While the workers’ compensation judge did find the signs were a safety device, he declined to increase benefits. Worker appealed, and appellate court affirmed, finding the provision regarding “failure to provide” was not applicable where a device was provided but not properly used by a fellow worker.

The New Mexico Supreme Court reversed, agreeing with worker that it “defied logic and reasoning” that an employer “supplied” the sign when it was not properly posted.

While this kind of increase may not be possible in Georgia workers’ compensation law, our attorneys can explore ways to maximize your compensation by arguing higher permanent partial disability awards and also exploring third-party negligence actions.

For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-920-4708 .