This case involves a detailed consideration of section 7(2) of the Worker’s Compensation Act, which creates a rebuttable presumption whereby an accident occurring in the course of employment is deemed to also “arise out of that same employment” in the absence of evidence to the contrary. The purpose of the section is to attenuate the difficulty in proving that an injury in fact arises out of and in the course of one’s employment. The Commission argued the Tribunal erred in its interpretation and application of this provision. The court ultimately disagreed and engaged in a fairly detailed consideration of the provision.
Administrative law – Decisions reviewed – Workers Compensation Board – Judicial review – Legislative compliance – Appeals – Standard of review – Correctness – Reasonabless – Worker’s compensation – Statutory provisions – In and out of the course of employment
New Brunswick (Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission) v. St-Onge,  N.B.J. No. 198, 2018 NBCA 53, New Brunswick Court of Appeal, September 6, 2018, J.C.M. Richard, K.A. Quigg and B.L. Baird JJ.A.
Mike St-Onge worked as a salesperson for M.P. Industriel Inc. On April 14, 2015, while returning from a sales call, Mr. St-Onge was involved in a car accident. Subsequent medical tests revealed an intracerebral hemorrhage, which was caused by the rupturing of an aneurism. Following the accident, Mr. St-Onge made a claim under the Workers Compensation Act, R.S.N.B. 1973, c. W-13 (the “Act”). The Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (the “Commission”) initially rejected his claim on the basis that his injury did not arise out of and occur in the course of his employment, as was required under the Act. However, the Commission later issued an amended decision, although it still rejected the claim. In the amended decision, the Commission stated the collision had not been the cause of the intracerebral hemorrhage.
Mr. St-Onge appealed the Commission’s decision to the Appeals Tribunal (the “Tribunal”). The Tribunal accepted Mr. St-Onge’s argument that it was the ruptured aneurism that was the “accident”, not the motor vehicle collision, as the Commission had focused on. The Tribunal then turned to section 7(1) of the Act, which required the worker suffer injury by accident arising out of and in the course of his or her employment. The Tribunal concluded that this was satisfied because Mr. St-Onge’s injury occurred while on a sales call. The Tribunal applied section 7(2) of the Act, which creates a rebuttal presumption whereby an accident occurring in the course of employment is deemed to also “arise out of that same employment” in the absence of evidence to the contrary. The Tribunal found there was no evidence to rebut this presumption and the Commission had incorrectly focused on the wrong causation issue – namely, how the motor vehicle collision was caused, when it ought to have asked how the intracerebral hemorrhage was caused. The Tribunal concluded there was no evidence to rebut the presumption and, accordingly, the accident also “arose out of his employment”.
The Commission appealed the Appeals Tribunal’s decision. It raised two grounds of appeal:
- The Tribunal erred in its interpretation of section 7(2) of the Act [the rebuttal presumption] by failing to find the nexus required at law between Mr. St-Onge’s ruptured aneurism and his employment; and
- The Tribunal erred by finding Mr. St-Onge suffered an accident which arose out of his employment on the basis it was physically connected with his employment because he was driving his vehicle on a sales call when it occurred.
As to the first ground of appeal, the court applied the correctness standard. The court disagreed with the Commission’s submission and concluded the Tribunal’s interpretation of the provision was correct. Section 7(2) states “when the accident arose out of the employment, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it shall be presumed that it occurred in the course of the employment…”. The purpose of this statutory presumption is to attenuate the difficulty in proving that an injury in fact arises out of and in the course of one’s employment. The court held that, but for this presumption, the question whether there was some nexus between the employment and the injury (as the Commission argued was necessary) would be determined by making appropriate findings of credibility, weighing the evidence and determining the matter on a balance of probabilities. However, this is not the case when the presumption applies. In those instances, the court said it is unnecessary to establish the nexus unless the presumption is rebutted. Accordingly, once it was established that the injury to Mr. St-Onge occurred in the course of his employment, the issue was whether there was any evidence to rebut this. The Tribunal considered this and ultimately found there was not. The court held this was the correct analytical approach and declined to intervene with respect to the Tribunal’s findings as to the strength of this evidence.
The second ground of appeal pertained to the Tribunal’s finding that the ruptured aneurism arose out of Mr. St-Onge’s employment because he was driving his vehicle on a sales call at the time. The Commission argued this was an error because there was no evidence before the Tribunal that established that the act of driving was causally connected with Mr. St-Onge’s ruptured aneurism. Once again, the court rejected this argument. The court applied a reasonableness standard because this ground of appeal related to a finding of fact. The court, in essence, concluded that the Commission was taking an overly narrow and isolated view of the Tribunal’s decision. When looked at in the context of the entire decision, the court held the Tribunal simply meant to say that the intracerebral hemorrhage was connected to Mr. St-Onge’s employment because it occurred in the course of that employment (while driving from a sales call). The references to Mr. St-Onge driving the vehicle while on a sales call was simply to demonstrate the injury had occurred in the course of his employment, which then triggered the presumption that it also arose out of that employment. The court held that, in the context of the entire decision, the alleged impugned statement of the Tribunal could not be read as anything more than this. As a result, the court held there was also no merit to this ground of appeal.
In the end, the court found the Tribunal applied the correct analytical framework when addressing section 7(2) of the Act and the application of the rebuttal presumption. It was also open for the Tribunal to find the presumption had not been rebutted. The Tribunal made no reversible errors. The court dismissed the Commission’s appeal of the Tribunal’s decision.
This case was digested by Adam R. Way, and first published in the LexisNexis® Harper Grey Administrative Law Netletter and the Harper Grey Administrative Law Newsletter. If you would like to discuss this case further, please contact Adam R. Way at firstname.lastname@example.org.