In order for injuries to be compensable under worker’s compensation law, they either need to occur while working or “arise out of the scope and course of employment.”For most who work at stationary offices, the question of what is compensable and what isn’t is fairly straightforward, though there is always the potential for complexity in certain circumstances. However, the waters are often muddier for workers whose jobs are not stationary.
A good example of this was recently seen in the case of Trezza v. USA Trucking Inc., before the Arkansas Supreme Court. Although this is an out-of-state case, it’s relevant here in Georgia, as there are thousands of licensed commercial truckers in this state.
Our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys understand that in the Trezza case, the trucker had just wrapped up a long shift in Tennessee. He parked his rig at a terminal in West Memphis. It was 9:45 a.m. and he changed his logbook from “driving” to “off-duty.”
Truck drivers are subject to a host of federal and state regulations regarding the number of hours they are allowed to work in a given time frame, and per federal laws, he was required at that time to take 34 hours off before he could drive or work.
He would later testify before the administrative law judge that shortly after he updated his log book, he stepped out of his rig to go to the bathroom. As he was walking there, he either stepped incorrectly or stumbled, which caused his ankle to twist and he fell.
Eventually, he was able to get back up and made his way to the bathroom. He later called both his fellow trucker friend as well as a dispatcher and informed them of his injury. He hoped the ankle was merely sprained, so he chose not to see a doctor right away.
He stayed with his truck over the course of the next 34 hours. Although he was responsible for the truck at all times, he was not necessarily required to sit with the truck. He would have been allowed to stay in a hotel room, but because his employer didn’t pay for one, he simply stayed and slept in the truck.
Later, the injury became unbearable and he sought workers’ compensation benefits. The company denied his claim. Upon review, the ALJ found the injury compensable, and awarded him temporary total disability, plus medical expenses.
Employer appealed, and the commission reversed, denied the claim and dismissed the case, ruling claimant failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he sustained an injury that was compensable because he was not performing a work-related function at the time of the alleged injury. Specifically, because he had changed his position to off-duty for the day and was not going to perform any further job functions, the commission found he was not carrying out the employer’s purpose or advancing the employer’s interest, directly or indirectly.
This was despite the worker’s assertion that he was furthering his employer’s task through the supervision of his truck, which was to be serviced for maintenance while it was parked at the terminal.
Worker appealed to the Arkansas Court of Appeals, which affirmed. The appellate court was tasked with determining not whether another explanation was reasonable, but whether the decision reached by the commission could be reached by other “reasonable minds.”
The appellate court answered in the affirmative. The court noted that injuries arising from necessary bathroom breaks that occur in the course of a work day may be compensable because they are required for a worker to return to duty – and further the interests of the employer. However, in this case and others cited, off-the-clock bathroom break injuries – even those that occur immediately off-the-clock – are not compensable.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.