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P.A.M. Transport, Inc. v. Eason

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

January 31, 2018

P.A.M. TRANSPORT, INC. APPELLANT
v.
DAVID PARKER EASON APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE ARKANSAS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION [NO. G602451]

          Mayton, Newkirk & Jones, by: David C. Jones, for appellant.

          Tolley & Brooks, P.A., by: Evelyn E. Brooks, for appellee.

          MIKE MURPHY, Judge

         Appellant P.A.M. Transport, Inc. (P.A.M.), appeals from the June 19, 2017 opinion of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) that ruled appellee David Eason sustained a compensable injury. The full Commission's opinion reversed the opinion of the administrative law judge (ALJ) who ruled Eason failed to prove a compensable injury. P.A.M.'s sole argument on appeal is that the Commission's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. We affirm.

         Eason worked for P.A.M. as a truck driver in training. On the day of the incident, Eason was riding with his mentor, Robert Flippo. They pulled into a truck stop at approximately 10:26 a.m. to wait out an extended delay of twenty hours before they could pick up the next load. Upon arriving at the truck stop, Eason changed his driver log to "off duty" at 10:42 a.m. Before making a personal call, Flippo informed Eason that they would be practicing the difficult task of backing up the truck later that day and that Eason should use the time until then to study for a necessary work-related test taken at the end of training. Flippo testified that he did not like letting trainees wander too far from the vehicle, so he told Eason to stay at least within walking distance. According to Eason, he studied for approximately twenty minutes before he decided to put up his phone so he would not be distracted. While putting his phone on his top bunk, he fell and injured his left leg. Eason testified that to get to his bunk he had to climb two stairs up and then get "[his] left leg up over the top of the mattress and so [he was] on that last step with [his] right leg." He explained that his sleeping bag was on top of the mattress, which caused him to slip, lose his grip, and fall backwards onto the floor of the cab of the truck. Eason had immediate pain in his left leg.

         After Eason had fallen, Flippo called the employer to explain what happened, and it was decided that Flippo would drive Eason to a nearby motel so that Eason's father could come pick him up and take him to get medical treatment. Once back in his hometown, Eason was initially evaluated at an urgent-care facility that immediately referred him to the emergency room where he had surgery on his left knee and femur on April 10, 2016.

         After a hearing, the ALJ found that Eason failed to prove he sustained a compensable injury. Eason appealed to the Commission; whereupon the full Commission found that Eason proved he sustained a compensable injury that arose out of and in the course of his employment. Further, the Commission found that Eason was entitled to temporary total- disability benefits from April 6 through July 11, 2016; that his injury was not idiopathic; and that his injury was not connected to any alleged preexisting condition.

          P.A.M. now appeals, arguing that the full Commission erred in finding that substantial evidence supports the conclusion that Eason sustained a compensable left-leg injury while working for P.A.M. and that the decision should be reversed.

         The standard of review in workers'-compensation cases is well settled. On appeal, this court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commission's decision and affirms the decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. Schall v. Univ. of Ark. for Med. Scis., 2017 Ark.App. 50, at 2, 510 S.W.3d 302, 303. Substantial evidence exists if reasonable minds could reach the Commission's conclusion. Id. The issue is not whether the appellate court might have reached a different result from the Commission but whether reasonable minds could reach the result found by the Commission: if so, the appellate court must affirm. Id.

         Additionally, the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given to their testimony are within the exclusive province of the Commission. Webster v. Ark. Dep't of Corr., 2017 Ark.App. 558, at 3, __S.W.3d__, __. Thus, we are foreclosed from determining the credibility and weight to be accorded to each witness's testimony, and we defer to the Commission's authority to disregard the testimony of any witness, even a claimant, as not credible. Id. When there are contradictions in the evidence, it is within the Commission's province to reconcile conflicting evidence and determine the facts. Id.

         A compensable injury is defined as "an accidental injury causing internal or external physical harm to the body . . . arising out of and in the course of employment." Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102(4)(A)(i). Here, the primary issue is whether Eason's injury arose out of and in the course of his employment with P.A.M.

         An employee is performing employment services when he or she is doing something that is generally required by his or her employer. Webster, 2017 Ark.App. 558, at 4, __S.W.3d__, __. We use the same test to determine whether an employee is performing employment services as we do when determining whether an employee is acting within the course and scope of employment. Pifer v. Single Source Transp., 347 Ark. 851, 69 S.W.3d 1 (2002). 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, either directly or indirectly. Id. Moreover, whether an employee was performing employment services within the course of employment depends on the particular facts and circumstances of each case. Id.

         On appeal, P.A.M. contends that substantial evidence does not support the Commission's decision that Eason was performing employment services at the time of his injury. P.A.M. argues that Eason sustained the injury while performing a personal activity- returning his cell phone to his bunk. P.A.M. further asserts that even if Eason had been studying at the time of injury, the studying was not mandatory and did not advance the interests of the employer. Lastly, P.A.M. ...


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