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Kansas Supreme Court denies comp claim by roofer hit by drunk driver

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The Supreme Court of Kansas affirmed a lower court’s decision to deny workers compensation benefits to a roofer who was severely injured after being hit by a drunk driver while walking from a bar to the hotel where he was staying for an out-of-town job.

Jesse Atkins was employed by Hutchison, Kansas-based Webcon Inc. when he was sent to help repair the roof of a grain elevator in Enid, Oklahoma, in June 2009. As part of the schedule for the work crew, workers stayed at the Baymont Inn in Enid, which sat across the street from another hotel that had a bar. One evening, on his way back from having a drink with a co-worker, he was hit by a drunk driver, sustaining “severe” injuries resulting in blindness in one eye and a leg amputation, according to Friday’s Kansas high court ruling in Jesse Atkins v. Webcon and Kansas Building Industry Workers Compensation Fund.

Months after his injury, Mr. Atkins submitted an application for hearing with the Division of Workers Compensation of the Kansas Department of Labor. Following a preliminary hearing, an administrative law judge determined that his injuries were the result of a hazard created by the conditions of his employment, namely his required travel to Enid. The judge ordered temporary total disability benefits and directed Webcon to pay Mr. Atkins’s medical treatment. The workers compensation board affirmed the preliminary order, reasoning that once Mr. Atkins departed from Hutchinson, Kansas, in a company truck, he “assumed the duties of his job and the entire undertaking (was) an indivisible one,” according to the ruling filed in a Topeka, Kansas, courthouse.

In April 2014, the ALJ conducted a regular hearing, ultimately concluding travel was an intrinsic part of his job and that he “was injured as the result of traveling to Enid to complete a work related errand.” The judge ultimately found Mr. Atkins’ injuries arose out of and occurred in the course of his employment; the board then reversed this finding, disagreeing that travel was intrinsic to Mr. Atkins’s work, according to documents that stated: “Claimant was not at work in his employer’s service at the time of his injury, nor did his injury arise out of the nature, conditions, obligations or incidents of his employment with respondent. Claimant’s work day ended when he was delivered to the Baymont Inn.” 

The Kansas Court of Appeals affirmed that decision, stating Mr. Atkins’ injuries did not “arise out of or in the course of his employment.”

In agreement, Friday’s Supreme Court ruling acknowledged the extent of the injuries: “We recognize Atkins suffered traumatic injuries, and we are sympathetic to how his life has been drastically altered by them. But applying the law to the facts, we conclude the findings of fact supported by substantial competent evidence demonstrate that those injuries did not arise out of or in the course of his employment.”