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Arkansas is not unlike many states in that a compensable injury is one that arises out of and in the course of employment, but it does not include one that is inflicted on an employee at a time when employment services are not being performed. However, the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Act does not define the phrase “in the course of employment” or the term “employment services.” Rather, the Arkansas appellate courts must define these terms in a manner that is compatible with the strict construction required of the Workers' Compensation Act. The courts have held, a number of times, that the test is whether the injury occurred within the time and space boundaries of the employment, when the employee was carrying out the employer's purpose or advancing the employer's interest directly or indirectly. The inquiry depends on the particular facts and circumstances of each case.
In fleshing out this issue, and because of the fact intensive nature of the inquiry, Arkansas courts and the Workers’ Compensation Commission, have been all over the board. In most instances, one can find case law to support both sides of a given “employment services” case. However, there certainly seems to be trend toward expanding the activities that are considered to be within the boundaries of employment. A recent opinion inRazorback Concrete v. Perkins, 2015 Ark. App. 368 (2015), reh'g denied (July 22, 2015) illustrates this point.
Perkins was a ten year employee of Razorback. At approximately 4:30 a.m. on March 11, 2013, Perkins reported to his job as a tanker-truck driver. He was dispatched from the company's West Memphis facility, and drove to a Memphis facility to be loaded with raw cement. From there, Perkins drove to the company's Blytheville facility for unloading, arriving shortly before 6:35 a.m. The employee responsible for unlocking the facility gates had not arrived to open them.
While waiting for the facility to be opened, Perkins drove a half mile to the only convenience store in that area. Perkins was not required to clock out. He was on paid company time and was not breaking any company policy by going to the convenience store. Perkins parked the truck on the shoulder of the road, directly across a five-lane highway from the store. He crossed the highway on foot, entered the store, bought a breakfast sandwich, and left to return to his truck. As Perkins attempted to cross the highway, he was struck by a vehicle and died a few hours later. The police report and death certificate recited the time of the accident as 6:44 a.m. The death certificate also listed this as an accident occurring at work.
Perkins was responsible for the security and maintenance of the truck and its load while he was driving. Razorback's area manager testified that the Blytheville plant opens between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m., not a set time. The manager stated that Perkins was never advised to refrain from stopping on his driving route and was actually allowed to stop as needed. Perkins was not instructed on what to do if he found the facility gates locked. The manager explained that Perkins was not doing anything prohibited by going to the convenience store that morning.
On appeal, Razorback argued that Perkins was not back in his truck or on company property at the time he was killed. Razorback also argued that Perkins was on a purely personal deviation from his work at the time of his injury. The Court of Appeals did not agree. The Court found that the Commission’s determination that Perkins was on paid company time, responsible for his truck during his workday, a half mile away from the employer's locked and gated facility, and returning to work after this permissible deviation had been completed was not erroneous because reasonable minds could conclude as the Commission did. “Whatever ‘employment services’ means must be determined within the context of individual cases, employments, and working relationships, not generalizations made devoid of practical working conditions.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This article was written by R. Scott Zuerker, a partner with Ledbetter, Cogbill, Arnold & Harrison, LLP. Ledbetter, Cogbill, Arnold & Harrison is a law firm located in Fort Smith, Arkansas dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation cases and liability matters. Zuerker and his firm are members of the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN). If you have questions about this article or Arkansas workers’ compensation issues in general, please feel free to contact the author at email@example.com or (479)782-7294.