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Virginia Electric & Power Co. v. Cogbill

    Brief Fact Summary. The Virginia Industrial Commission held that Claimant employee suffered an injury by industrial accident. Defendant employer challenged the decision.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. An obvious sudden mechanical or structural change in the body is required for accidents resulting from ordinary exertion to be compensable. The claimant must prove that the injury by accident arose from an identified incident that occurs at some reasonably definite time.

    Facts. At the time of her injury, the employee, Sarah Cogbill, was working at a public auction of Virginia Electric & Power Company’s surplus vehicles. This was a deviation from her usual job, during which she worked at a desk and sat in a swivel chair, enjoying free movement. During the auction, she sat in a straight-backed, hardwood chair placed on the bed of a truck. Over the course of more than three hours, she carried a clipboard on her lap and recorded auction bids. During the auction, she claimed, her back began to trouble her. When the trouble persisted, she saw a doctor who diagnosed the problem as a lumbar strain, the result of her posture during the auction. The record indicated that Claimant had previous trouble with her back, and had missed work as a result. She filed a claim and the hearing commissioner awarded compensation. Virginia Electric & Power Company requested a full commission review and the commission affirmed the original decision.

    Issue. Did the Virginia Industrial Commission err in its holding that an employee’s injuries arose from an industrial accident?

    Held. Yes. The court reversed holding that the injury, stemming from mere sitting, was not an industrial accident.

    Discussion. The Virginia Supreme Court takes an opportunity to review the particulars that distinguish an “industrial” accident from an accident occurring in the course of normal activities.
    In its findings the court noted specifically: “(1) the employee’s injury resulted from an activity similar in nature to her regular job, requiring no different or unusual exertion; (2) the employee did not show that her injury was the result of a sudden, obvious mechanical or structural change; and (3) the injury stemming from mere sitting was not an accidental injury.” Thus, the court provided a four-step analysis by which to measure an industrial “accidental” injury from an injury that occurs during one’s usual, normal activity. The court commented in conclusion, “The Virginia Workmen’s Compensation Act was adopted for the benefit of the employees and their dependents, and it should be liberally construed in order to accomplish this humane purpose. But liberal construction does not mean that the Act should be converted into a form of health insurance.”


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