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USA Trucks, Inc. v. Jarrell

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

October 19, 2016



          Ledbbetter, Cogbill, Arnold & Harrison, LLP, by: R. Scott Zuerker and Joseph Karl Luebke, for appellant.

          Marc I. Baretz, for appellee.

          LARRY D. VAUGHT, Judge

         USA Truck, Inc. and Broadspire Services, Inc., (collectively "USA Trucks") appeals the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission's order adopting and affirming the administrative law judge's (ALJ) finding that appellee James Jarrell suffered a compensable injury. We affirm.

         In 2014, Jarrell applied for a truck-driving position with USA Trucks and attended the company's truck-driving school in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He obtained a commercial driver's license and was directed by USA Trucks to go to Van Buren for a two-day orientation, which he did. He left the orientation with a "training driver" with whom he drove to Colorado and back to Arkansas. While on the road, the two men slept in the sleeper berth of the truck, although the trainer told Jarrell that, if he didn't want to sleep in the truck, he could get a hotel room at his own expense.

         After the training trip to Colorado, USA Trucks arranged for Jarrell to take a bus to Memphis for additional training, which he did. As soon as Jarrell arrived at the West Memphis bus terminal, his new trainer took him to Wal-Mart to buy groceries for their trip to begin the following morning. Later, the trainer instructed Jarrell on where to put his personal belongings in the sleeping berth of the truck, told him that the top bunk was Jarrell's, and told him that they needed to get to sleep because they were leaving for Texas early the next morning. Jarrell testified that the trainer never mentioned that he had any option other than sleeping in the truck and instead told him that they should sleep there so they could leave very early the following morning. Jarrell testified that he understood this as an instruction from the trainer.

         In the morning, the trainer woke Jarrell up by instructing him to immediately conduct a pretrip inspection of the truck. Jarrell climbed down from the top bunk and inadvertently 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 testified that he was climbing out of the bunk bed to get dressed in order to conduct the inspection as instructed by the trainer. He noted that he was required to keep an accurate log of his on-duty and off-duty time and that he was not permitted to log any on-duty time until he was dressed and ready to work. He admitted that he had not yet logged any on-duty time in the truck when he was hurt.

         Jarrell filed a claim with the Commission, alleging that he had suffered a compensable injury. Appellants denied that his injury was compensable, arguing that he had not been performing employment services at the time of his injury. The ALJ found that Jarrell had been instructed to sleep in the truck so that the two men could leave early the next morning and that by sleeping there he had advanced his employer's interest. USA Trucks then appealed to the Commission, which adopted and affirmed the ALJ's opinion.

         In reviewing Commission decisions, we view the evidence and all reasonable inferences deducible therefrom in the light most favorable to the Commission's decision and affirm it if it is supported by substantial evidence. Hill v. LDA Leasing, Inc., 2010 Ark.App. 271, 374 S.W.3d 268. Substantial evidence exists if reasonable minds could reach the Commission's conclusion, and we will not reverse unless fair-minded persons could not have reached the same conclusion when considering the same facts. Id. We will reverse if the Commission's decision is based on an incorrect application of the law. Id.

         The only issue presented by USA Trucks in this appeal is whether Jarrell was performing employment services at the time of his injury. In Razorback Concrete v. Perkins, 2015 Ark.App. 368, at 2, 465 S.W.3d 15, 16, we explained:

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. Wallace v. W. Fraser South, Inc., 365 Ark. 68, 225 S.W.3d 361 (2006).
The Workers' Compensation Act does not define the phrase "in the course of employment" or the term "employment services." Id. Our supreme court has taken on the task of defining these terms in a manner that is compliant with the strict construction required of the Act. Id. Since 1993, the supreme court has held several 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. Id. This inquiry depends on the particular facts and circumstances of each case. Texarkana Sch. Dist. v. Conner, 373 Ark. 372, 284 S.W.3d 57 (2008).

         Appellants argue that our case law has previously established that off-duty truck drivers who are injured while performing "routine personal grooming and related tasks" upon arising in the morning (showering, going to the bathroom) are not performing employment services and their injuries are, therefore, not compensable. See Cook v. ABF Freight Sys., Inc., 88 Ark.App. 86, 90, 194 S.W.3d 794, 797 (2004); Kinnebrew v. Little John's Truck, Inc., 66 ...

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