If a truck driver is injured just as he is getting ready to perform his first official duty of the day, is he covered by workers’ comp?
James Jarrell was training to be a truck driver for USA Trucks Inc.
He was scheduled to drive with a trainer. The night before, the trainer told Jarrell the top bunk in the truck’s sleeping berth was his and that they were leaving early the next morning.
In the morning, the trainer woke Jarrell and told him to immediately conduct a pre-trip inspection of the truck. Jarrell climbed down from the top bunk and accidentally stepped into a crock pot full of hot water, causing severe burns to both of his feet. He was transported to the hospital by ambulance.
Jarrell hadn’t logged on duty at the time when he was hurt.
He filed a claim with the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission. USA Trucks denied the claim, arguing he hadn’t been performing employment services at the time of his injury.
An administrative law judge found Jarrell had been instructed to sleep in the truck so they could leave early the next morning and that by sleeping there he had advanced his employer’s interest. The ALJ granted Jarrell comp benefits. The full Commission upheld the ruling on appeal. USA Trucks took its case to a state court.
The only issue before the appeals court was whether Jarrell was performing employment services at the time of his injury. USA Trucks argued he wasn’t.
The Arkansas Supreme Court had previously set a test for what was considered to be performance of employment services:
“The test is whether the injury occurred within the time and space boundaries of employment, when the employee was carrying out the employer’s purpose or advancing the employer’s interest directly or indirectly.”
USA Trucks argued that previous case law established that off-duty truck drivers who are injured while performing routine personal grooming and related tasks after getting up in the morning are not performing employment services. Therefore, if they’re injured, they’re not covered by workers’ comp.
In one case, a truck driver was at a truck stop for his eight-hour rest period. While there, he used a shower at the facility, slipped, fell and was injured. The court held the driver wasn’t performing employment services while taking a shower when he was off duty.
But the Arkansas Court of Appeals said the situation in Jarrell’s case was different. First, he was a trainee and was required to follow his trainer’s instructions, which included sleeping in the truck so they could get an early start in the morning. The court found sleeping in the truck was required and done for USA Truck’s benefit.
Second, when he burned his feet, Jarrell wasn’t performing routine personal grooming. He had been awakened by his trainer and instructed to perform a pre-trip inspection of the truck. He was injured as he followed that instruction.
USA Trucks argued that the relevant question was what Jarrell was doing at the moment of his injury. In this case, he was simply getting out of bed.
But the court found that, “even under such a narrow inquiry, Jarrell was performing employment services at the moment of injury.”
The court upheld the award of workers’ comp benefits to Jarrell.
(USA Trucks Inc. v. James Jarrell, Arkansas Court of Appeals, No. CV-16-389, 10/19/16)