RATTLESNAKE BITE DOES NOT ARISE OUT OF EMPLOYMENT
Mercy Logging vs. Odom
Circuit Court of Escambia County, Alabama (July 27, 2012)
The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals recently held that a snake-bite suffered by an employee did not arise out of his employment.
The plaintiff, Johnnie Odom, worked in the logging business for twenty years. At the time of his injury, Odom was employed as a log-truck driver. His duties included trimming, binding, and flagging loads and delivering loads to timber and paper mills.
On September 24, 2009, Odom and two other employees were part of a logging crew under the supervision of the crew foreman, Aaron Perritt, the son of Mercy Logging’s owner. The employees drove their personal vehicles and parked them at a service station. They were met by Perritt, who was driving the labor truck for Mercy. Perritt then transported the logging crew in the labor truck to the job site where Mercy was cutting timber.
At the end of the work day, the employees returned to the labor truck for the ride back to their personal vehicles. On the way, Perritt drove a short distance to retrieve one of two “Trucks-Entering-Roadway” signs that had been placed on the road to warn traffic. Shortly after retrieving one of the signs, Perritt spotted a diamondback rattlesnake on the paved road.
Once he saw the snake, Perritt turned the truck in an attempt to run over it and kill it. Perritt testified that he had a habit of running over snakes whenever he saw them on the road. He considered the snake particularly dangerous because it was in an area that was adjacent to the job site where he and his crew would be working the following day.
As Perritt maneuvered the truck towards the snake to run over it, one of the employees called out “don’t kill it; lets catch it.” Once outside the truck, Odom grabbed the snake behind its head and dropped it into a bucket. As he did so he was repeatedly bitten on both hands.
Odom was hospitalized from September 24, 2009 until November 3, 2009. He was in a coma for the first two weeks of his hospitalization. He experienced a “frozen” shoulder and extensive prolonged swelling of his hands and arms. During physical therapy, Odom complained of pain in his neck and upper back, and he experienced a popping in his neck.
After a trial, the trial court determined that Odom’s injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment with Mercy Logging. The trial court held that Odom was permanently and totally disabled. Mercy appealed.
In reversing the decision of the trial court, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals focused on whether Odom’s injuries “arose out of” his employment with Mercy. Under Alabama Law, the employment would be considered a legal cause of an injury, for workers compensation purposes, only when the injury results from an occupational risk. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has previously held that an injury arises out of employment if it arises “from any risk or danger incidental to the character of …employment.”
In its opinion, the Court of Appeals observed that the trial court’s ruling focused on the occupational hazard that snakes present to Mercy’s employees when the employees are conducting logging operation in the woods. The Court of Appeals noted that Odom’s injury did not occur while he was conducting logging operations or while he was in the woods. In fact, Odom acknowledged at trial that catching a rattlesnake on a public roadway was not an activity caused by his employment. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals framed the legal question to be answered as follows:
“Whether Odom’s occupational risk of being bitten by a snake during logging operations in the woods has any causative relation to the snake bite that Odom actually suffered on September 24, 2009, when he voluntarily left the safety of the vehicle in which he as a passenger and attempted to catch a snake that was lying on the roadway.”
The Court of Appeals answered the question in the negative. The court reasoned that the snake on the roadway posed no risk – occupational or otherwise– to Odom so long as he remained in the vehicle in which he was riding. Once he voluntarily exited the vehicle and attempted to catch the snake, the risk that caused Odom’s injury was personal to him and not “sufficiently related to his employment to be considered as an occupational hazard.” Dallas Mfg. Co. vs. Kennemer 8 So.2d 519 (1942). The Court of Appeals felt that the hazard Odom encountered on September 24, 2009, was not peculiar to loggers. It was one that would be shared by any passing motorist who, after having spied a snake on the roadway, exits his or her vehicle and undertakes to catch the snake.
The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reversed the decision of the trial court holding that Odom had suffered an injury arising out of his employment with Mercy Logging.
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