Safety and OSHA News

Should he get workers’ comp for snake bite?

If a logger suffers a snake bite on the job, you might think it would be covered by workers’ comp. But wait until you hear the details on this case before coming to that conclusion.

Johnnie Odom worked for Mercy Logging in Alabama.

One day, his foreman was driving him and two other loggers from their work site to where their cars were parked.

The foreman saw a diamondback snake (a venomous rattlesnake) in the road.

A few things about diamondbacks: They are one of the more aggressive species of rattlesnakes. They rarely back down when confronted by people. Their venom can destroy tissue and affect the heart. A severe bite, while rare, can be fatal.

The foreman tried to run over the snake with the truck but missed. One of the loggers said they should stop the truck and try to catch the snake.

When Odom watched one of the other loggers try to catch the snake, he thought the other worker didn’t know how and was going to be bitten. Odom says he had caught as many as 100 snakes and that he’d never been bitten, so he took over.

Of course, that sounds like the common refrain from a worker who, when told to stop taking a risk, says, “I’ve done this dozens of times and haven’t been hurt.”

This time, the snake bit Odom on both of his hands.

(The same theory about risks applies to alligators, as we noted in an earlier post.)

He was hospitalized for 40 days, 14 of them in a coma and 35 of them in intensive care. He suffered extensive and prolonged swelling of his hands and arms, and a “frozen” shoulder. He continued to suffer pain after being released from the hospital.

Odom applied for workers’ comp. The company denied his request, saying his injury didn’t arise out of and in the course of his employment.

A trial court awarded Odom workers’ comp based on Odom’s argument that he was trying to remove a dangerous snake from the area where loggers were working, and that arose out of and in the course of his job.

Mercy Logging appealed.

Was it really work-related?

An Alabama appeals court said this was the important question in the case: Was Odom “reasonably fulfilling the duties of his employment” in attempting to catch a rattlesnake?

The court said Odom voluntarily left the vehicle to catch the snake, and had he stayed in the truck, he would have been safe. The snake on the road posed no risk to him in the truck. The risk to Odom was caused by his own decision to leave the truck.

So Odom was denied workers’ comp benefits for his permanent, disabling injuries because the injury didn’t arise out of his employment.

In one footnote to the court’s written decision, it says one of the workers was able to skin the snake and saved the hide which the three co-workers were going to make into a belt for Odom … but they never got around to it.

So Odom lost the case and never got his belt.

(Mercy Logging v. Odom, Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama, No. 2101061, 7/27/12)

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Comments

  1. I agree, no WC.

  2. I agree, it was just showing off and being foolish

  3. Agree! WC should not have to pay for stupid.

  4. agreed

  5. Yes, I agree also, no WC.

  6. Did the company provide training on how to properly catch a snake and was a proper personal protective equipment hazard assessment conducted? – Just kidding. But in all reality how much money did the company have to shell out in lawyer fees to defend against pure stupidity?

  7. Jeff H. – If Odom had a lawyer, this should be one of those examples where Odom’s lawyer should be forced to cover the expenses for trying to get financial gain on something so stupid.

  8. No case here, the employee and his attorney should be required to pay the company’s legal fees.

  9. Yep! Another “Darwin Award” nominee. Stupid is as stupid does. The snake posed no threat. Odom should have realized that this would turn out to be a bad day when he could not turn the snake into a speed bump!
    I’m glad the court employed common sense in its decision – a lot more than the foreman who stopped the truck and allowed the fiasco to take place – and in my estimation, that is where the fuzzy line occurs. Since the foreman allowed the situation to arise, does that place the company in a culpable position?

  10. Absolutely agree he should not get WC! One could do any stupid thing to help other workers and claim it was part of their work……we should not have to pay for complete stupidity.

  11. The foreman should be severely reprimanded or fired for trying to run over the snake, then stopping to let the men out of the truck to “play” with the snake. He could have prevented the whole thing had he taken charge of the situation and not alowed the horseplay.

  12. Utterly ridiculous claim. Had he been bitten while actually working things would be different, but this case definitely falls into the “Hey y’all, watch this” category.

  13. Odom should not be blamed for applying for comp–given his injuries, it was worth a shot. And, if his foreman had ordered him to catch the snake, he would have had a case. As reported, however, the court was absolutely correct.

  14. “Here Bubba! Hold my beer!, cuz you don’t know whatcha doin son!”. Ridiculous display of disregard for ones personal safety.

  15. So TedBean – Are you stating it’s alright for anybody to TRY to get WC for receiving an injury that they know doesn’t meet the requirements for WC benefits? And if they get those benefits, you’re alright with that?

  16. TedBean, The mindset of applying for WC as “it was worth a shot” is an example of the opportunistic and/or entitlement mentality that has so many negative consequences for so many people. Companies don’t have an endless supply of $$ and the opportunistic mindset does little to help prevent avoidable layoffs, companies opportunities to invest in equipment to remain competitive, etc… What happened to people just taking personal accountability/responsibility for their actions and choices in life? No offense but I find that thought process that so many have very concerning and to be frank unethical.

  17. I disagree whoueheartedly with the notion that “given his injuries, it was worth a shot” to shift the burden of his own stupidity onto someone with deeper pockets. That very attitude explains much that is wrong with our society today.

  18. Hey TedBean – Who do you work for?

  19. Geez, TedBean just gave his opinion. What’s with all the “Who do you work for?” nonsense. There’s enough incivility on the internet as it is. I appreciate reading the comments here on Safety News Alert to see other professionals opinions on these type of matters. I don’t always agree with them but they have every right to express them, as I have every right to express my own. This is still America right?

  20. VS, Yes this is still America! You do have every right to express your opinion just as does TedBean – that does not necessarily make the opinion or mindset correct. You should not get mad at others when they speak out against an entitlement or opportunistic mindset. As I have heard it said in many different ways is that in order for evil to succeed is for good people to stand by and do nothing.

  21. Well Jeff, Whenever I don’t agree with someone, and I feel that strongly about it, then I generally try to engage in conversation, as I’m doing now. I don’t think I got “mad” here as you say I did about you speaking out “against entitlement or opportunistic mindset”. In fact I didn’t address that at all. That is the type of thing I’m referring to when I speak of incivility. Creating Strawman arguments don’t influence anyone. Feel free to challenge me on things I actually say, not words you are putting in my mouth.

  22. VS. You had me lost at strawman. Well then – So what is your take on the opportunistic mindset that TedBean displayed?? I could be very well be wrong but it certainly appeared that in your reply to Willy you came across as defending and/or condoning the mindset. You are correct I may have put words into you mouth that you did not intend. With that being said – I’m sure the company that TedBean works for would love to know of his mindset – I certainly wouldn’t want him working for me or the same company that I work for (although I know that unfortunately they are all over). I myself applaud those who jumped all over TedBean as that type of mentality is as Robert put it well as that very attitude explains much that is wrong with our society today.

  23. Come on folks, this is about a WC issue; you really have become side tracked.

  24. Come on folks, this is about a WC issue; not who is politically correct.

  25. Well, feel free to look up the phrase “strawman argument” if you wish.
    I’ll answer your question first then I’d like to ask you a question back. I’ll rephrase your question to me, “what’s my take on TedBean’s comment?” I don’t agree with him. This was a case of horseplay, unrelated to the work, and the company should not be punished in to paying his hospital bills. The foreman that was involved should have been, at minimum, relieved of his duties as foreman if not fired outright for extremely bad judgement which factored in to this injury as well. That’s my opinion as a professional safety manager.
    Now, here’s my question for you.
    Where did I say, in any of my comments, that I was defending or condoning TedBean’s “mindset”?
    Please quote me exactly where I defended what he said. Here’s the answer, No where not once, again, that is something you are projecting on me, that comes from you and you alone. It is a strawman argument.

    I defended his right to speak his opinion. You said earlier that he has the right to speak his opinion also, yet now you think he should be fired for one sentence that he wrote in a comments section? This is America, we don’t blacklist people.

  26. VS, I stated it appeared you were condoning the mindset and I prefaced that I could be wrong – in which case I was. For all of your getting mad about putting words into your mouth. I did not say that I thought that he should be fired for one sentence. Etc. You are doing exactly the same thing you are accusing others of doing. Jan you are correct that this is a WC issue not a political issue- unfortunately the opportunistic mindset that some people have often is a big part of the WC challenges that we as safety professionals face.

  27. Please, let’s be civil and deal with the WC case.

  28. Mary, Amen I’m with you!!!

  29. I concur with the notion that the foreman should be held accountable for permitting or even encouraging an obviously dangerous act resulting in serious injury. I know I would be if something like it happened on my watch. I’m sure loggers encounter snakes and plenty of other wildlife quite often, and while I don’t know their usual protocol for dealing with this, I’m quite sure “bare hand grab” is not an approved method.

  30. Some of the responders want to blame the victim. Here you have someone who suffered a serious injury and incurred a lot of expense. Odds are that he also didn’t know all the fine points and quirks of the WC laws. So, he should ask for help. I would not argue that he should get WC given the circumstances, but I do not want my people to self censor. If there is a hazardous situation, I want to know about it. So, I instruct them to file for everything, whether they need treatment or not (a record only filing) because then I have a tool to track and address both the individual and the situation. Coincidentally, every year I’ve been on the job, the number and severity of accidents has gone down.

  31. The victim is to blame. No one told him to get out of the truck and remove the snake. To me he was trying to show off to the others because it states he had done this before. What was he going to do with it after he caught it? There was no plan. All he had to do was stay put and none of this would have happened. Let the dam thing cross the road like any other animal. STUPID on his part.

  32. In my opinion, the supervisor represents the company, so when the supervisor stopped the truck he made it part of the guys job to handle the snake. An employee doing something stupid does not let the company off the hook.

    I question the training and capabilities of the supervisor.

    The company is on the hook here.

  33. Chucktown

    Unless the supervisor was operating under the company’s agreement and had been trained by professionals on poisonous snake capture he had no reason to attempt this. I sincerely doubt a company in logging also has poisonous snake capture courses. Or that the company routinely catches poisonous snakes on roads to try to prevent the snake from entering their work place.

    This sounds more like that “I double down dare you” Or “I can do that to show off to you boys on how to do it” type stuff and that stuff kills.

    This supervisor was taking risks and allowing subordinates to take risks that should never happen.

    I feel terrible about the injuries but WC no………….

  34. Captain Safety says:

    Why not just try to run it over again?

    • Why not just leave the poor snake to live it’s life in the woods. Seems to me they were driving in or out of the work area. I doubt the poor creature was posing a risk to anyone!

  35. Captain

    That would be too UUUUmmmmmmm Safe!!!!!!!!

  36. “Supid is as stupid does” F. Gump

  37. The Foreman stopped the truck and allowed them to do it. I don’t see anything regarding the foreman preventing them from making fools of themselves. Since is was on company business and the foreman allowed it, then I think the company should pay.

  38. They were done with work and on the way to their cars. Every person involved with trying to catch the snake took personal responsibility to do so. Based on the description, Odom “took over” on his own accord. He should not receive WC Benefits and should happy he is alive. I feel badly that he suffered, but damnit, when are people going to be held responsible for their actions. Why should a company or individual be expected to cover the poor judgement of any adult individual(s)?

  39. I agree that Mr. Odom does not deserve WC for taking it upon himself to accept such risk outside of the workplace. Were they also “off the clock?” Most likely they were. Further, was it part of Odom’s job description to deal with such hazards, or merely to report them to safety experts who would then employ company-sanctioned procedures to eliminate the danger?

    The snake posed no threat in the workplace since they were no longer on the work site, they were in transit from the work site.

    However, in all deference to WC, the question is about the behavior of the foreman as it relates to legal liability for the company. The foreman is an agent of the company and he condoned the actions and behaviors of these men. Since he gave explicit approval, as an agent for the company, while transporting people in a company truck, for these men to risk their livlihoods and health towards such a questionable endeavor, is the company open to a civil suit?

  40. ATC-David says:

    Without a doubt this snake was ticked and terrified, some HUGE really noisy creature just tried to do it harm. I’m assuming Odom was not a snake whisperer, but was hired to cut down trees, so took it upon his self to charm the little rascal which lo and behold, did what it’s kind have been doing for 200 million years, struck back.
    So many people have irrational fears when it comes to our slithery friends, though they are not friends, can’t be but they will leave us alone as long as we do the same. These guys are great vermin killers and I like them around. I let them go or take them over (with a shovel) off my property, but if they are on my door step, they’re history, but I don’t like doing that, they’re (and a few other creatures) just coming for the water we have.
    Odom’s job was to cut down trees, he went outside of that, then tried to get some money, you KNOW his lawyer pushed him for. Can’t fix stupid.
    His decision, and he has to live with that.

  41. As with most of you I agree that he doesn’t deserve workmans comp benefits, but he surely is entitled to them. Steve touched on the foreman being an agent of the company. That is the key to this whole mess. No matter how silly, stupid, or un-safe of an act anyone of those guys were making as long as the foreman was present, and or aware of what was going on, it falls back onto the company. That is why it is very important to have competent people in management positions.

    • IN that case his lawsuit should be against the foreman. But i am so sick of seeing stupid rewarded. Good for the judge!!! Sad part is is still cost the company BIG TIME! I bet the fess run 6 figures at least!

  42. Mr. Odom took over the snake catching operation. At what point are people going to be held accountable for their actions? This falls on accountability and not blame placement or entitlement. He made the choice, and while expensive and painful, now faces the consequences.

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