An employee broke her hip while on break. What factors did the court use to determine whether she was eligible for workers’ comp benefits?
Mary Hudak-Lee was a unit secretary at Baxter County Regional Hospital in Arkansas. On New Year’s Eve in 2007, she received a call asking if she could work the 12-hour night shift from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., even though she was on vacation.
She agreed and for the first 4.5 hours of her shift she performed her normal clerical duties.
At 11:30 p.m. she was asked to provide one-on-one observation of a suicidal patient.
After observing the patient for three hours — 7.5 hours into her shift — a co-worker offered to relieve her for a short break.
Hudak-Lee went outside to revive herself in the night air. She was sleepy because she woke up early that day because she wasn’t scheduled to work.
While walking back toward the hospital’s entrance she fell and couldn’t get back up.
Emergency room personnel x-rayed her hip and discovered it was broken. She was taken to another hospital and immediately underwent hip replacement surgery. She wasn’t able to return to work until May 5, 2008 — over four months later.
Hudak-Lee applied for workers’ comp benefits.
Winding road to state’s highest court
The Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission denied her request for comp benefits. The Commission ruled that, at the time of her injury, Hudak-Lee was on break and not advancing the interests of her employer.
Hudak-Lee took her case to the Arkansas Court of Appeals, which overturned the Commission’s decision. The appeals court ruled that Hudak-Lee was performing a function that advanced the interests of the hospital.
The hospital and its insurance company appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, calling Hudak-Lee’s time away from the patient’s room “a lunch break.”
The state’s highest court said the Commission failed to properly determine whether Hudak-Lee was advancing the interests of her employer at the time of her injury.
The court noted:
- Hudak-Lee had been called to work a 12-hour shift on her day off
- part of the way through the shift she was asked to sit in a darkened room to keep watch over a suicidal patient
- she’d been awake for over 20 hours at the time of her injury because she hadn’t anticipated working that night
- in the patient’s room there was no TV, telephone, magazines or anything else to help Hudak-Lee stay awake
- her purpose in going outside was to revive herself to she could complete her shift, and
- she was walking back toward the hospital’s entrance to return to the patient’s room when she fell.
In its decision, the court wrote, “Clearly, at the time of her injury, [Hudak-Lee] was advancing the interests of her employer.” The court ruled that she should receive workers’ comp benefits.
(Hudak-Lee v. Baxter County Regional Hospital, Supreme Court of AR, No. 10-212, 3/3/11)
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