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University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences v. Hines

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

December 4, 2019



          Robert H. Montgomery, for appellants.

          Moore, Giles & Matteson, L.L.P., by: Greg Giles, for appellee.

          RITA W. GRUBER, Chief Judge

         Appellants University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and the Public Employee Claims Division appeal a decision of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission awarding appellee Patricia Hines benefits for an injury to her left knee. For reversal, appellants contend that the Commission erred in finding that Hines was performing employment services at the time she was injured. We affirm.

         On March 28, 2018, Hines slipped and fell at work resulting in a left-patella fracture, which required surgical repair.[1] Following her injury, Hines filed a claim for workers'-compensation benefits. Appellants controverted the claim in its entirety, alleging that Hines was not performing employment services at the time of the accident. A hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) took place on October 24, 2018. Hines was the only witness to testify.

         Hines testified that she worked for UAMS as a surgical-services patient-unit coordinator. She worked from the front desk of the unit and was responsible for scheduling, coordinating, and staffing the department's thirty-two surgical rooms. Her normal shift was from 2:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. She was required to clock in at the beginning of her shift and clock out when it was over. Hines stated she had had two fifteen-minute breaks and a thirty-minute lunch break.[2] Her breaks were not scheduled. She explained, "Because of the nature of my position at the front desk, there is no scheduled time because there's cases and there's emergencies and there's traumas, so I have to fit in a break where I can, if I can." She usually combined her break with her lunch to take just one break.

         On the day of her accident, Hines took her break at approximately 6:30 p.m. She left her second-floor work area and rode the elevator down to the first floor. When she exited the elevator, she answered a phone call from her granddaughter. She had taken approximately ten to fifteen steps when she slipped and fell. Hines testified that when she was taking her break she was not headed to any specific place. She often took her break in the lobby because it was sunny, and she enjoyed the piano. Hines said that she generally used her break to get away from her department and to take care of things she couldn't handle while she was at work, such as calling family members. She explained that she worked in a "very stressful department" and that breaks were necessary to refresh and return with more energy and better performance.

         Hines testified that she did not clock out during her breaks and was still on duty. She explained there are emergencies and traumas at any time and that she is the only unit coordinator on that shift. If there was an emergency, the head nurse would call her to return immediately, which was why Hines stayed in the building and did not clock out. If she were to leave the building, UAMS policy required her to clock out so they knew she was not in the building. When asked if she was required to take her breaks on the premises or if she could leave, Hines answered, "No, I could not leave." The nurse manager covered her desk when Hines was on break. On the day of the accident, Hines did not get a call to return, but she had been called back three to four times during her six years in that position.

         The ALJ found that Hines failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that she was performing employment services at the time of her fall. The Commission, in a split decision, reversed the decision of the ALJ. The Commission wrote:

In the case at bar, the claimant was within the time and space boundaries of her employment, she was paid for her time and, even though she was not at her designated work station, she was on the jobsite when she sustained her injury. Additionally, as in Ray, supra, the claimant was required to leave her break and return to work if she was needed to assist with an emergency or if a trauma occurred.
The present case is analogous to Ray, supra [Ray v. University of Arkansas, 66 Ark.App. 177, 990 S.W.2d 558 (1999)], and Kimbell, supra [Kimbell v. Assoc. of Rehab Industries, 366 Ark. 297, 235 S.W.3d 499 (2006)]. The claimant testified that she was taking a break but was still on duty because she remained in the building. Additionally, the claimant remained on call at her jobsite, clocked in and available for work. It appears that one of the essential functions of the claimant's position was to be on site, waiting for a trauma to occur so that she could coordinate any necessary surgical procedures. The claimant testified that she was the only unit coordinator on her shift and if she had been called to return to her desk because of an emergency or trauma, she would have been required to do so. The claimant testified further that she had been called back from her lunch break in the past. Clearly, the respondent-employer derived a benefit from the claimant remaining in the building, immediately available to resume her duties. For the aforementioned reasons, we find that the claimant was performing employment services.

         Appellants filed a timely notice of appeal.

         In reviewing a decision from the Commission, our court reviews the evidence and all reasonable inferences deducible therefrom in the light most favorable to the Commission's findings and affirms if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Kroger Ltd. P'ship v. Bess, 2018 Ark.App. 404, at 6, 555 S.W.3d 417, 421. Substantial evidence exists if reasonable minds could have reached the same conclusion without resort to speculation or conjecture. Id. The issue is not whether the appellate court might have reached a different result from that of the Commission but whether reasonable minds could reach the result found by the ...

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