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Employee doesn’t need to show actual injury to earn workers’ comp

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When Patsy Evenson, a K-Mart manager, came to the aid of a wheelchair-bound man, she got his blood and feces on her hands. He had HIV, and she had sores on her hands.

An emergency room physician told her by phone to get to the hospital as soon as possible for preventative treatment for possible exposure to HIV and hepatitis. She went.

K-mart paid her medical bills on a "diagnostic basis" but later denied her workers' comp claim. Evenson's test results so far had been negative, so the company argued that because she had not contracted a disease or suffered any mental or physical injury, there was no "compensable injury" under Oregon workers' comp law.

A state court ordered the company to pay up. It said the manager didn't need to show actual physical or mental harm, only that she required medical services. (K-Mart v. Evenson, 97-07020; CA A103326, Ore. Ct. of Ap., 2000)

Advice: Employers like K-Mart are right to try to avoid expansion of "compensable injuries" to situations where an employee has only the threat of illness. But pick your battles. This was a unique and sympathetic situation and probably shouldn't have been challenged.

Equally important, the case reaffirms that employers must train their employees to handle situations where employee safety is at risk. Make sure your workers know what safety precautions to take, whether it's putting on protective gloves or calling for help from someone trained to handle such situations.

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