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Trip and fall at hospital not work related, adjudicator finds

Decision means woman can take Northern Health through civil process for injuries allegedly suffered

An adjudicator has turned down a bid by Northern Health to have a "trip and fall" lawsuit dismissed as a workplace accident.

At issue was whether Verna Howard was on the job when she mistakenly stepped into a pothole while carrying a plate of lasagna back to her vehicle during a lunch break at Wrinch Memorial Hospital in Hazelton in September 2018.

A lawsuit was filed on her behalf in July 2020, in which Howard is seeking damages for severe soft tissue and other injuries she allegedly suffered. In part, Northern Health countered that the action should be barred by provisions of the Workers Compensation Act.

But in a lengthy decision issued in January, Workers Compensation Appeals Tribunal vice-chair Herb Morton found that while Howard was an employee within the meaning of the the Act, her errand was due to "personal reasons unrelated to the work and which cannot be said to be simply incidental to that work."

Howard had been attending a work meeting at the hospital where a lunch of lasagna was provided. After a long day of meetings, Howard said she typically does not want to cook at the end of the day, so if there is any leftover food, she brings it home.

While she was walking through the parking lot, another vehicle pulled up to her left, prompting her to look up in search of a safe route to her vehicle and she stepped into the pothole and fell.

The outcome means Howard will be able to pursue the lawsuit as a civil action rather than rely on workers' compensation to cover the cost imposed by her injuries. A trial on the matter has since been scheduled for September 2024 in Smithers.