Justices: No workers' comp after shift ends

Steve Korris Mar. 11, 2009, 6:00am

A drilling company roughneck injured after his shift can't collect workers' compensation, appellate judges ruled.

Justices on the Ninth District Court of Appeals in Beaumont reversed Newton County jurors who awarded workers compensation to Nicklos Drilling employee Cody Jones for an injury that happened 10 hours after his shift ended.

"There is no evidence that Jones was engaged in furthering Nicklos Drilling's business at the time of his injury," Justice David Gaultney wrote in a March 5 opinion.

Justices Charles Kreger and Hollis Horton agreed.

Nicklos Drilling's workers compensation carrier, Gray Insurance, won the appeal even though Jones argued that other courts had ruled favorably in similar cases.

At the time of the injury, Jones had finished a meal in a crew house at a drilling rig.

His weeks alternated between seven 12 hour shifts and seven days off. Because he lived two and a half hours away, he usually slept in the crew house when pulling the 12 hour shifts.

Workers didn't pay to sleep there but they had to bring their own sheets and pillows, feed themselves and keep the place clean.

On his way to the trash he dropped an empty packet on the floor. As he bent toward it, his back popped.

He applied for workers compensation, and an appeals panel at the Texas Department of Insurance decided that the injury didn't qualify.
Jones sued in Newton County district court, and jurors found in his favor.

District Judge Joe Bob Golden ordered Gray Insurance to cover Jones.

Gray Insurance appealed, arguing that under Texas law a carrier assumes liability when an injury arises "out of and in the course and scope of employment."

Jones produced four cases that stretched the law.

In Yeldell v. Holiday Hills, a nurse making a personal telephone call tangled the phone cord with an urn which tipped and spilled coffee on her.

The Supreme Court of Texas found in 1985 that Yeldell qualified for benefits.

The justices held that quenching thirst, relieving hunger and other personal acts of health and comfort were incidental to an employee's service.

In Texas Employers' Insurance v. Davidson, an hourly employee with no lunch break ate as she worked. She fell on her way to the trash.

Appeals judges at Fort Worth held in 1956 that she qualified.

In Texas Employers' Insurance v. Anderson, an employee was injured as he left work.

Appeals judges at Dallas held in 1939 that he qualified because "his departure was so recent and closely connected with his employment as to render it an incident thereto."

In the most similar case, Texas Employers' Association v. Prasek, an oil rig worker choked to death on a piece of steak in a company trailer house.

Appeals judges at Corpus Christi found in 1978 that Prasek qualified because he was "on call" at a critical stage of drilling.

However, Gaultney found big differences between them and Jones.

He wrote that Yeldell and Davidson didn't apply because "Jones was not on the job at the time of his injury."

And unlike Anderson, Gaultney wrote, Jones had been off his shift approximately 10 hours.

"He had slept, awakened, and prepared and eaten his meal," he wrote. "Unlike Prasek, there is no evidence in the present case that the drilling was at a critical stage and Jones was needed on the site."

He wrote, "There is no evidence that the act resulting in his injury was an act that had to do with and originated in the work, business, trade or profession of Nicklos Drilling."

Robert Rose Sr. represented Gray Insurance. Blair Bisbey represented Jones.

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