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January 5, 2015

“Idiopathic” in medical terms means “unknown cause.”  But in the workers’ compensation field, “idiopathic” means “unique to the individual.”

Pennsylvania is one of the few states that find an employee who suffers an “idiopathic fall” while on the job, can collect PA workers’ compensation benefits.   The two leading cases in PA that granted benefits for an “idiopathic fall” did not have similar fact patterns. 

In one case, the employee fell while on duty at her work station.  She sustained a serious head injury when her head struck the linoleum floor.  As a result of the fall,  she suffered frequent seizures and underwent two brain surgeries.  It was unclear how the fall occurred: if the employee had tripped or if she had fainted.  The Court held that it did not matter.  The Court accepted the conclusion that the employee’s head injury, resulting from her fall at work, caused uncontrollable seizures that rendered her disabled.  Workers’ compensation benefits were properly granted. 

In another leading case, the employee had an epileptic seizure while driving his car in his employer’s parking lot prior to the start of his workday.  The employee lost control of his car and crashed into a few cars before hitting a concrete abutment on employer’s premises.  He was killed in this tragic accident.  The PA Court found this accident compensable and the employee’s widow was awarded workers’ compensation benefits.  

Pennsylvania is in the minority in granting workers’ compensation benefits for idiopathic falls.  A majority of the states hold that if a employee has a personal condition that causes the employee to lose consciousness and faint or fall, the resulting injuries are compensable only if the work conditions contributed to the injuries sustained.