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)