Safety and OSHA News

Truck driver falls while putting cell phone in his bunk: Does he get workers’ comp?

For traveling employees, such as truck drivers, it’s often a judgment call by a court whether the employee’s injury occurred in the course and scope of work or during leisure time. What did a court decide in this case? 

David Eason worked for P.A.M. Transport Inc. as a truck driver trainee.

On the day of his injury, Eason was working with his mentor, Robert Flippo. They were at a truck stop waiting out a 20-hour delay before they could pick up their next load.

Once at the truck stop, Eason changed his driver log to “off duty.” Flippo told Eason he should use the time to study for a work-related test, and later they would practice backing up the rig at the truck stop. Flippo also said Eason should stay near the truck.

According to Eason, he was studying for the test in the cab when he decided to put his phone on his top bunk so he wouldn’t be distracted.

While putting his phone on the bunk, he fell and injured his left leg. To get to the bunk, he had to climb two stairs. His sleeping bag was on top of the mattress, which caused him to slip, lose his grip and fall backwards onto the floor of the cab.

An urgent-care facility referred Eason to the emergency room where he had surgery on his left knee and femur.

An administrative law judge found Eason failed to prove he suffered an injury compensable under workers’ comp. Eason appealed to the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission.

The Commission reversed the ALJ’s decision. It awarded him temporary total disability benefits for a three-month period. P.A.M. appealed, arguing the injury didn’t arise out of and in the course of his employment.

Was he really on Facebook?

P.A.M. claimed Eason’s injury happened while he was performing a personal activity – returning his cell phone to his bunk. It referred to two previous Arkansas cases where truck drivers were denied workers’ comp for their injuries.

In one case, the driver was off duty and injured his ankle while on the way to the bathroom. In the other case, the driver was on a mandated rest period when he was injured turning on his motel bathroom light. Arkansas courts said in both cases the drivers weren’t eligible for workers’ comp benefits.

But the Arkansas Court of Appeals said those cases were different from Eason’s.

Eason was technically logged off, but he and Flippo intended to perform job functions: practicing backing up the truck. Eason wasn’t on leisure time off. He was required to stay nearby and was injured while he was studying for a test in the truck.

P.A.M. offered evidence that Eason hadn’t been studying for the test before he was injured. Eason was logged into Facebook until 12:09 p.m. that day. The injury occurred at 12:25 p.m. The appeals court said reconciling that testimony was up to the Commission.

The appeals court upheld the Commission’s decision: Eason had suffered an injury in the scope and course of work and should receive workers’ comp benefits.

By the court’s written opinion, it appears that if Eason had suffered the same injury while on a break purely for rest purposes, he wouldn’t receive comp.

(P.A.M. Transport Inc. v. David Parker Eason, Arkansas Court of Appeals, No. CV-17-631, 1/31/18)

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