A long-haul truck driver who developed blood clots in his legs and lungs can get workers’ compensation benefits after the Utah Supreme Court found an almost nine-hour-straight drive contributed to his condition.
The court found that the long drive “that precipitated the injury was unusual or extraordinary when compared to normal life activities,” so it reversed a lower court ruling denying the claim.
Drove 9 hours with only 1 break
David Hickey was a long-haul truck driver for JBS Carriers. At one point, he was assigned to a route that began in Tremonton, Utah, and ended in Madera, California.
Late on the second day of his journey, Hickey drove for six hours and twenty-five minutes straight, followed by another two hours and twenty-five minutes without stopping. His truck had an automatic transmission that didn’t require him to use his left leg, so he rarely moved that leg while driving. Further, it was his general practice to remain in the driver’s seat of his truck for loading and unloading, so he likely spent more time in the truck than what was shown in his driving logs.
On the third day of the trip, after arriving in Madera, Hickey began experiencing swelling in his left leg along with shortness of breath. He went to a local hospital where he spent three days in treatment before being released. Ten days later he was admitted to another hospital. He was diagnosed with blood clots in his legs and lungs. He remained hospitalized for another 16 days and was unable to return to work after being released.
Employer claims obesity caused condition
Hickey filed for workers’ compensation benefits claiming the blood clots were caused by the second day of his long-haul drive for JBS, when he drove for almost nine hours with only one break and without moving his left leg.
JBS disputed the claim, arguing Hickey’s blood clots were the result of his “super obesity” – a medical term used to describe someone with a body mass index (BMI) over 50 – and not his employment.
An administrative law judge found Hickey failed to show the blood clots were caused by his employment with JBS and denied the claim. An appeals court upheld the decision.
Employment activity was ‘unusual and extraordinary’
On appeal with the Utah Supreme Court, Hickey had to show that his employment with JBS contributed something substantial to increase the risk for blood clots he already faced in every day life due to his obesity.
The court said a workers’ compensation claimant “must demonstrate that the employment activity that precipitated the injury was unusual or extraordinary when compared to normal life activities.”
Ultimately, the court found Hickey’s long drive in a commercial vehicle was an unusual, extraordinary activity when compared to the ordinary activities people perform in their every day, non-work lives.
And because Hickey proved his employment with JBS was the cause of his blood clots, the court said it didn’t have to address his obesity as a pre-existing condition, leading to the reversal of the lower court decisions and a reinstatement of the workers’ compensation claim.