In this workmen's compensation lawsuit, the parents of a sixteen year old deceased, one Joe Dennis Jackson, complain principally of a Court of Appeal judgment reversing a $1,378.00 trial court award for funeral expenses. Contrary to a finding of the district court, the Court of Appeal determined that decedent's drowning did not arise out of and in the course of his employment, 391 So.2d 1339.
The facts giving rise to this litigation are as follows. In the summer of 1978, the Coordinating and Development Council of Northwest Louisiana
The youngsters were supervised by one Carolyn Huseth. Their duties included cutting grass, picking up litter, and doing general maintenance labor in and around the small community of Rodessa, Louisiana, in Caddo Parish. It was conceded at trial that the boys rarely worked a full eight hour day even though they usually received credit for four eight hour days per week.
On Thursday, August 10th, the last day of the summer program, Mrs. Huseth took the youngsters to do some work near the home of a Mr. Buehler, a municipal employee. At approximately 10:00 a. m. that morning, Mrs. Huseth informed the boys that, as she had promised earlier in the week, she would take them to a pond several miles out of Rodessa for a swimming party to celebrate the end of the program. There was testimony that the boys were informed that their attendance at the party was not mandatory, although this matter was in dispute at trial. Time sheets had already been turned in by Mrs. Huseth, giving all the boys credit for the concluding week's work, including Thursday, August 10th. With the exception of two boys who found their own way to the party, the group was transported to the pond by Mrs. Huseth in her truck. While wading at the pond, Joe Dennis Jackson accidentally drowned.
R.S. 23:1031 provides that an employer is obligated to pay compensation to an employee if the employee "... receives personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment...."
The trial court found that plaintiffs were entitled to compensation in that Jackson's death had arisen out of and in the course of his employment. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding no coverage under the statute for the reasons that 1) the accident did not occur on the employment premises, 2) the employer did not derive any substantial benefit from the activity which precipitated the death, and 3) decedent's participation at the party was entirely voluntary.
The Court of Appeal considered the foregoing three elements in determining that the employee was not covered under the statute. The court cited and afforded great weight to Larson's treatise on Workmen's Compensation (Desk Ed. 1977), from which these factors are derived. The following passage is cited from Volume 1A, Section 22 of that treatise:
The chief question presented is whether the trial court was clearly wrong in its factual finding, Arceneaux v. Domingue, 365 So.2d 1330 (La.1978), and/or erroneous in its application of the law.
The "arising out of" requirement we deem to have been satisfied to a great degree particularly in light of two factors which were considered by the Court of Appeal
Furthermore, in our view, a supervisor's "suggestion" that her charges do or not do a certain thing takes on a much greater air of compulsion when such a suggestion is directed to adolescents, as is the case here, then when made to adults. As Larson states at Section 22.22, page 5-84:
The fact that Mrs. Huseth in no way intentionally pressured the youngsters into attending the party does not mean that the boys indeed felt no compulsion. The trial court's inferential determination that the youngsters felt some degree of compulsion, or that they were required to attend, was not clearly wrong.
The next factor which is significant in our assessment of whether Jackson's death arose out of his employment is the degree to which the employer's purpose was served by the activity which gave rise to the injury.
It is true that there was probably no physical benefit to the employer as a result of the swimming party. No trash was collected and no grass was cut during that time. However, because of the somewhat unusual nature of the employer/employee relationship in this case, we do not believe that the employer's only purpose in the work program was procurement of physical benefits. Rather, there is evidence in the record that among the goals of the federally
As previously mentioned, the "in the course of" requirement refers generally to the time and place of the accident as it relates to that of the regular employment. In this case, Jackson's death occurred during regular working hours at which time full wages were being paid. Also important is the fact that the accident cannot be considered to have taken place outside the premises of employment since there were no set confines for the youngsters' work activities. The testimony was that the boys usually met with their supervisor each morning at a predetermined place, but after that meeting, the group went to wherever the work presented itself. Furthermore, as stated by Larson at Section 22.23, page 5-91 of Workmen's Compensation (Desk Ed. 1977):
In summary, after a consideration of all the facts of this case, we are of the opinion that Jackson's death bore sufficient connexity to his employment in terms of origin and in terms of time and place to have arisen from and to have occurred in the course of that employment. We cannot say that the trial court was clearly wrong in its finding, nor erroneous in its judgment. Therefore, the judgment of the Court of Appeal will be reversed and the decision of the trial judge as to the finding of coverage reinstated.
In deciding the basic issue of coverage under the statute, the trial court awarded the decedent's parents only the $1,378.00 funeral expenses and declined to award them dependency benefits. The trial court also refused plaintiffs' demand for penalties and attorney fees.
The trial judge, in his consideration of the issue of dependency, found as a matter of fact that Mr. and Mrs. Jackson were not dependent on the decedent "... before, during or since his tragic death ..." and had no reasonable expectation of support from him.
The trial court found that Jackson was not at the time of his death contributing to the support of his family
The same can be said of the court's refusal to award attorney fees. Because of the uncommon nature of the employment in this case and because of the unusual circumstances surrounding the death of Joe Jackson, the defendants cannot be said to have arbitrarily or capriciously withheld the funeral expenses.
For the reasons stated above, the judgment of the Court of Appeal is reversed and the decision of the trial court is reinstated in all respects.
REVERSED; TRIAL COURT JUDGMENT REINSTATED.
BLANCHE and MARCUS, JJ., dissent and assign reasons.
BLANCHE, Justice (dissenting).
I respectfully dissent. The opinion of the court of appeal is correct.
MARCUS, Justice (dissenting).
I do not consider that decedent's drowning arose out of and in the course of his employment. Hence, his employer is not obligated to pay compensation. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.