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Restaurant worker startled by opossum deemed permanently disabled

Posted On: Mar. 21, 2024 11:19 AM CST

Texas Roadhouse

A Texas Roadhouse worker in Tennessee was permanently disabled by a work-related fall he suffered when he was startled by an opossum after his shift, the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board ruled Thursday.

Raymond Pridgen was in a designated break area outside the restaurant waiting for his ride home after 11 p.m. on July 22, 2019, when the opossum ran from behind a dumpster and startled him, causing him to fall and sustain injuries to his shoulder and back, according to Raymond Pridgen v. Texas Roadhouse Holdings LLC, et al.

The employer moved for summary judgment, asserting that the employee’s injury did not arise “primarily out of or in the course and scope of his employment.” A trial court disagreed, concluding that the injury was compensable “based on the totality of the evidence and relevant precedent.” The court also concluded, based in part on expert vocational testimony, that the employee was permanently and totally disabled following the fall.

Texas Roadhouse, which has initially accepted the workers compensation claim, which included a “massive” rotator cuff tear that required surgery, appealed, arguing that the “employee’s alleged injury” was not compensable and that the trial court erred.

The appeals court disagreed, citing medical evidence that the man’s condition had not improved despite treatment, and testimony from one vocational expert who said Mr. Pridgen “had attempted to return to work post-injury on at least two occasions but was unable to perform his job” despite preexisting conditions that had never kept him from going to work.

The court used case law from the Tennessee Supreme Court that ruled “‘course of employment’ includes not only the time for which the employee is actually paid but also a reasonable time during which the employee is necessarily on the employer’s premises while passing to or from the place where the work is actually done.”

On the disability argument, the court wrote that “it is undisputed that (Mr. Pridgen) made attempts to return to work, though unsuccessful, and his testimony regarding his own physical limitations is competent and relevant.”