For the recovery of workers’ compensation benefits, many jurisdictions require proof of injury “by accident.” While some states define accidental injuries in their workers’ compensation statutes, others do not leaving the courts to sort out the meaning intended. Generally, “by accident” signifies that an identifiable, yet unexpected, event caused the injury. Whether an injury has occurred “by accident” has been heavily litigated among the applicable states with the result being a developing definition of the phrase. For example, one court defined an “accident” as an unanticipated occurrence as opposed to one that was expected. Another court has defined “accident” as an unexpected and precipitous event that happens suddenly and produces an injury based on objective findings.
A thorny issue in the realm of injuries “by accident” is whether the cause was an accident or whether the result was an accident. The importance of the cause or the result as “accidental” differs among the states. When both the cause and the result are unexpected and definite as to time, a clear picture of an injury “by accident” emerges. For example, an explosion at a power plant on a given day results in severe burns to the worker. However, when the exact opposite is shown, the picture of an occupational disease emerges. For example, a miner develops lung disease after working in a coal mine for fifteen years.