The small southeastern town of Opp, Alabama is known for its annual Rattlesnake Rodeo. Recently a worker in southwest Alabama was seriously injured after being bitten by a rattlesnake. Obviously rattlesnakes are dangerous. Does it benefit your employer if you try to remove a snake from your workplace? It depends. Some will recall the words of Scripture, “The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORD God had made.” (Genesis 3:1) A recently Alabama workers’ compensation claim involved a man who made a claim for benefits after suffering a serious injury while trying to catch a snake.
Some will recall the words of Scripture, “The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORD God had made.” (Genesis 3:1) A recent decision in an appeal of an Alabama workers’ compensation claim involved a man who made a claim for benefits after suffering a serious injury while trying to catch a snake.The case is styled Mercy Logging LLC v. Odom, Alabama Court of Civil Appeals Case No. 2101061 (decided July 27, 2012)
Here is a brief synopsis of the case. Johnnie Odom was a logger for more than 20 years. On September 24, 2009, he was working for Mercy Logging LLC and at the end of the day’s work, he and two co-workers were riding with their foreman back to where each of them had parked their vehicles at a gas station. As they drove, the foreman noticed a diamondback rattlesnake in the road and he swerved the truck to try to run over the snake. One of the workers suggested they try to catch the snake rather than kill it. The foreman stopped the truck and one of the workers tried to catch the snake. That worker apparently didn’t know how to catch a snake but Odom had caught as many as 100 snakes before so he took over. In the process, the large snake, measuring six fee three inches bit Odom on both hands. Suffering serious injuries, Odom was in intensive care for 35 days and he now suffers disabling pain in his neck and back. Odom sought workers’ compensation benefits and the court found him permanently and totally disabled. The employer appealed. On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed. The Court’s rationale was that an injury is compensable when caused by an accident arising out of and in the course of employment. Courts have held that an injury arises in the course of employment when it occurs within the period of the employment, at a place where the employee may reasonably be, and while he is reasonably fulfilling the duties of his employment or engaged in doing something incident to it. Here, the employer provided transportation to its employees so Odom’s accident occurred within the period of his employment. The Court wrote that the more difficult question is whether Odom was “reasonably fulfilling the duties of his employment or engaged in doing something incident to it” when he was bit trying to catch the snake. The fact that Odom’s foreman stopped the truck so the workers could catch the snake created an inference that the employer impliedly consented to the snake-catching. However, the Court wrote that the implied-consent rationale is limited by the requirement that he employer must receives some direct or indirect economic benefit from the activity before it becomes part of the employment. Odom suggested he was making the job site safer by catching and removing the snake. However, the Court noted that even assuming the job site was benefited getting rid of one dangerous snake, the potential benefit was outweighed by the potential detriment to the employer that resulted from losing the services of a valued employee who might have been seriously injured while trying to catch the snake. The Court also considered whether the injury arose out of his employment and noted the injury did not occur while Odom was in the woods or engaged in logging. “The snake on the roadway posed no risk—occupational or otherwise—to Odom so long as he remained in the vehicle in which he was riding. . . .”