THE VIRGINIA WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION
Duchesne (ChasenBoscolo Injury Lawyers, on brief), for
Charles F. Midkiff (Brendan C. Horgan; Midkiff, Muncie &
Ross, P.C., on brief), for appellees.
Present: Chief Judge Decker, Judges Humphreys and Huff
GRAFF DECKER CHIEF JUDGE
Jones (the claimant) appeals the Workers' Compensation
Commission's decision denying his claim for benefits. He
argues that the Commission erred by finding that his injury
was caused by his violation of a known safety rule and that
the rule was enforced by Crothall Laundry (the employer). For
the following reasons, we determine that credible evidence
supports the Commission's finding that the claimant's
act of entering the employer's machinery area without
using the gate, which would have deactivated the equipment,
proximately caused his injury. In addition, the Commission
did not err in concluding that the employer enforced the
safety rule. Consequently, we affirm the Commission's
October 14, 2017, the claimant worked as a "team
leader" for the employer, a commercial laundry facility
operator. That day, he entered a fenced area in which laundry
was processed in order to move some mops. As the claimant did
so, a piece of moving machinery pinned his leg against a
conveyor belt. He suffered a serious leg injury as a result.
claimant sought medical and disability benefits for his
injury. The employer defended against the claim based on the
claimant's alleged failure to follow a safety rule.
evidentiary hearing, the deputy commissioner considered the
claimant's deposition and live testimony. The claimant
explained that the area in which he received his injury was
surrounded by a chain link fence. He acknowledged that
employees were supposed to enter the area through the
interlock gate in the fence. According to the claimant, the
gate was designed to deactivate the machinery in the interior
area when opened. The claimant affirmed that he knew that
this particular safety rule existed and was enforced.
Nevertheless, on the day of his injury, the claimant bypassed
the gate and entered the area with the machinery through a
separate opening in the fence without deactivating the
equipment. The entire sequence of events was recorded on a
video that was entered into evidence.
was some evidence that employees did not always enter the
fenced area through the gate. Nelson Gonzales, a
"[t]unnel operator" for the employer and coworker
of the claimant, testified that he had seen other unnamed
employees entering the fenced area by circumventing the gate.
Gonzales said that he had observed such actions in the
presence of supervisors. However, he had never reported the
safety rule violations to his supervisor.
claimant explained that opening the gate at times failed to
deactivate the machines but he believed the gate was working
properly on the day of his injury. He said that both a button
and a kick plate inside the fenced area would also stop the
machinery when pressed. According to the claimant, he
attempted to press them but did not manage to deactivate the
equipment before his injury. These alleged actions are not
observable on the video of his entry into the fenced area and
the resulting accident.
managers testified regarding the enforcement of the safety
rule at issue in this case. Christopher Hallow,
general manager for the employer, stated that an employee who
entered the fenced area without opening the gate to
de-energize the equipment first would be terminated. Hallow
explained that three months before the accident, he had given
a verbal warning to other workers whom he overheard
discussing the possibility of entering the fenced area
without opening the gate. Further, he testified that he was
not "aware that anybody was" entering the fenced
area without using the gate. Carlos Gordon, a production
manager for the employer, confirmed that the company enforced
the safety rule that employees must enter the fenced area
only through the interlock gate.
hearing the case, the deputy commissioner found that the
employer proved that the claimant violated a known safety
rule and that such conduct was the proximate cause of his
injury. Noting some inconsistencies in the claimant's
testimony, the deputy commissioner also concluded that the
employer enforced ...