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Snakebite victim not eligible for workers compensation benefits: Court

Snakebite victim not eligible for workers compensation benefits: Court

MONTGOMERY, Ala.—A logger who was bitten by a snake while working can't collect workers compensation benefits because the accident did not arise during the course of his employment, according to an Alabama appellate court.

Johnnie L. Odom worked as a log-truck driver for Mercy Logging L.L.C., court records show. In September 2009, Mr. Odom and several co-workers stopped to catch a 6-foot-3-inch diamondback rattlesnake they saw while driving away from a job site.

Mr. Odom grabbed the snake behind its head, and was bitten on both hands as he dropped the snake in a bucket, records show. The accident left him in a coma for two weeks and in the hospital for 40 days.

The Escambia County, Ala., Circuit Court ruled that Mr. Odom was permanently and totally disabled with a "frozen" shoulder and "extensive and prolonged" swelling in his hands and arms, records show. Mr. Odom was awarded workers comp benefits to cover his injuries and medical expenses, which totaled more than $300,000.

However, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reversed that decision Friday. In a unanimous ruling, the court said Mr. Odom's snakebite was not "an accident arising out of an in the course of (his) employment" under Alabama workers comp law.

Although Mercy loggers often encountered snakes in the woods, the court noted that Mr. Odom voluntarily left the safety of his truck to catch the viper.

"The hazard that Odom encountered on Sept. 24, 2009, was not peculiar to loggers; it was one that would be shared by any passing motorist who, after having spied a snake on the roadway, alights from his or her vehicle and undertakes to catch the snake," the opinion reads.