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Racetrack worker not on job at time of debilitating injury


A racetrack worker who was asleep at the stable when a fire broke out and severely injured his back was not working at the time of his injury and did not suffer a compensable workers compensation injury, an appeals court in Arkansas ruled Wednesday.

Juan Lopez, who tended to racehorses as part of his job with James Divito Racing Stable in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and slept on the premises because living in town was not affordable, had returned from dinner and went to sleep in a space above the stables before his 6 a.m. shift. When a fire broke out at 5:45 a.m., he leaped from a second-story window, suffering a fractured vertebra that led to 10 months of disability, after that which he testified he could no longer work with horses, according to documents in Juan Lopez v. James Divito Racing Stable and Meadowbrook Insurance Group, filed in the Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II in Little Rock, Arkansas.

After his workers comp claim was denied on the basis that he was not at work at the time — the stable argued that he was not required to live on site — an administrative law judge found that Mr. Lopez proved “by preponderance of the evidence that he sustained a compensable injury because, at the time of his injury, he was providing employment services.”

Specifically, the (judge) found that Mr. Lopez’s employer benefited from his “mere presence on the premises” given that Mr. Lopez “needed to be on the racetrack grounds to walk the horses when his number was called and because Lopez was required to walk the horses after a race and during his regular working hours. Considering these employment activities, the (judge) was persuaded that Lopez’s living on premises was inherently necessary for the performance of his employment duties.”

The Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed the ALJ’s decision, concluding “that Lopez was not providing employment services when he was injured” and that he was not required to live on the premises of the stable.

The appeals court agreed with the commission, stating that “substantial evidence” supports that decision and that “our case law holds that an overnight injury suffered by a nonresident employee is not compensable when the employee is merely attending to his own personal needs.”








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