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Hedrick v. Tires

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District

July 18, 2017

BRYAN KEITH HEDRICK, JR., Claimant-Appellant,


          DON E. BURRELL, J.

         In July 2011, Bryan Keith Hedrick, Jr. ("Claimant") "intentionally [lit] a can of glue held in a co-worker's hand on fire with a lighter" at the Big O Tires ("Employer") shop in Camdenton.[1] His startled co-worker dropped the flaming can, which exploded on impact and severely burned both men. Claimant now appeals the final award of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission ("the Commission") denying his claim for workers' compensation benefits. See section 287.495.[2]

         Claimant's point on appeal claims the Commission erred "in concluding that [Claimant's] injury did not arise out of and in the course of the employment" under section 287.020.3(2) because Claimant "would not have been equally exposed to the injury in normal non-employment life." Because Claimant's intentional ignition of the glue was not an "accident[, ]" as that term is defined in section 287.020.2, we affirm the decision of the Commission.

         Applicable Principles of Review and Governing Law

A reviewing court may modify, reverse, remand for rehearing, or set aside a workers' compensation award upon a finding that: (1) the commission acted without or in excess of its powers; (2) the award was procured by fraud; (3) the commission's factual findings do not support the award; or (4) there was not sufficient competent evidence in the record to warrant the making of the award. [Section 287.495.1.] "Whether the award is supported by competent and substantial evidence is judged by examining the evidence in the context of the whole record. An award that is contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence is, in context, not supported by competent and substantial evidence."

Greer v. SYSCO Food Services, 475 S.W.3d 655, 664 (Mo. banc 2015) (quoting Hampton v. Big Boy Steel Erection, 121 S.W.3d 220, 223 (Mo. banc 2003) (footnote omitted)). We review the Commission's findings and award, including any findings of the ALJ affirmed and adopted by the Commission. Small v. Red Simpson, Inc., 484 S.W.3d 341, 344 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015). In doing so, we defer to the Commission's factual findings, credibility determinations, and weighing of conflicting evidence. Greer, 475 S.W.3d at 664.[3]

         The determination of whether an incident was "a compensable accident under the Workers' Compensation Law" and an injury arose out of the claimant's employment are questions of law that we review de novo. Young v. Boone Elec. Coop., 462 S.W.3d 783, 786, 788 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015). We will not reverse the Commission's decision if it "reaches the right result even if it gave a wrong or insufficient reason for its ruling." Ellis v. Mo. State Treasurer, 302 S.W.3d 217, 220 (Mo. App. S.D. 2009).

         Evidentiary Summary and Procedural History

         At the outset of the evidentiary hearing before the ALJ, counsel for the parties confirmed "that the issues to be resolved . . . are the occurrence of an accident, and the causation of the injuries alleged."

         Claimant testified that he worked for Employer fixing tires, performing vehicle alignments and oil changes, and doing "[g]eneral mechanic work[.]" Fixing tires sometimes required using an adhesive, and multiple techniques were used to dry the adhesive, including simply waiting or "light[ing] it on fire [to] make it very sticky and tacky[.]" When this was done, the glue can was "put back in a cabinet away from where" the applied glue was being dried. Claimant had seen a similar technique used at another tire shop, and he had used such a technique at Employer's shop. He sometimes used his own lighter, and he sometimes used a lighter from Employer's shop.

          Another employee, Kyle Uchtmann, testified that mechanics were not supposed to use a lighter on tire glue, but he had seen it being used in that way at a tire shop. The manager of Employer's shop, Benjamin Pruitt, had witnessed employees "using a lighter during the tire patching process[.]" There was testimony from these employees and Claimant that other flammable tasks were sometimes performed in connection with the repairs made in the shop.

         Claimant said that he had previously engaged in "horseplay on the job" at Employer's shop, and such horseplay included "squirting people with the washer fluid hose, putting stuff on door handles to make them slick, . . . snapping a rag or something[, ]" and using a "large air tank" to shoot "under the bathroom door to make a dust cloud or . . . blow their clothes up[.]" Claimant had witnessed another employee, Steve Milazzo, engaging in horseplay.

         Mr. Pruitt testified that there had been "occasional joking around" at the shop, but "[n]othing [he] would consider harmful or dangerous, no." Mr. Pruitt testified that the horseplay had involved Claimant and an assistant manager, Steven Moore, "wrestling around[, ]" and Mr. Pruitt thought "that someone potentially could get hurt wrestling around[.]" When Mr. Pruitt became aware of the wrestling, he reprimanded Claimant and ...

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