Rattlesnake Roundup Gone Awry
On July 27, 2012, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released its opinion in Mercy Logging, LLC v. Johnnie L. Odom wherein it reversed the trial court’s finding that the employee was permanently and totally disabled.
At trial, the evidence revealed that the employee worked as a logger. On the day of the claimed accident, the employee had completed his job assignment and was riding back with three co-employees when the driver spotted a diamond back rattlesnake (later determined to be over 6 feet long) on the side of a paved road. The fateful foursome then decided to leave the safety of a perfectly good truck and catch the snake with their bare hands. In the process, the employee was repeatedly bitten on both hands. As a result of the bites, the employee was in a coma for two weeks and in the intensive care unit for 35 out of his 40 days in the hospital.
In finding the employee permanently and totally disabled, the trial judge pointed out that rattlesnakes are an occupational hazard to loggers and that the employee’s job as a logger materially increased his risk of exposure to a snake bite.
In reversing the trial court, the Court of Civil Appeals focused on the fact that the increased occupational risk had no causal relation to the snake bite that occurred when the employee and his buddies tried to catch a snake on the side of a road. The Court further noted that encountering snakes on the side of a road is not a hazard that is peculiar to loggers but one that would be shared by every passing motorist.
My Two Cents:
The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court because it determined that the employee could not establish that the snake bites arose out of his employment. However, it could just have easily supported its reversal on the fact that the bites did not occur in the course of his employment. Although he was in a company truck on the way back from a job site, a substantial deviation occurred from that employment when the driver stopped the truck in order to catch a snake. Further, the act of trying to catch the snake was clearly "horseplay."
Another Two Cents:
Even Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes! It is a good rule of thumb that if Indiana Jones is afraid of something, you probably should be too!