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Greenville Manufacturing Inc. v. Mason

August 18, 1998

GREENVILLE MANUFACTURING, INC. D/B/A FRUIT OF THE LOOM AND THE TRAVELERS INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLANTS
v.
KATHY P. MASON, APPELLEE



Before Bridges, C.j., Hinkebein, And Payne, JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bridges, C.j., For The Court:

Greenville Manufacturing, Inc. v. Mason, 97-CC-00521-COA

THIS OPINION IS NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION AND MAY NOT BE CITED, PURSUANT TO M.R.A.P. 35-B

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/26/97

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. SHIRLEY C. BYERS

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: WASHINGTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - WORKERS' COMPENSATION

TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND REMANDED TO COMMISSION FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS TO DETERMINE BENEFITS

DISPOSITION AFFIRMED AND REMANDED TO COMMISSION

Kathy Mason was injured while driving to work on the night shift at Fruit of the Loom (a.k.a. Greenville Manufacturing Company) on August 28, 1994. Mason filed her petition to controvert on May 24, 1995. The employer argued that the "going and coming" rule barred Mason's claim for benefits. Mason contended that her claim fell within the "special hazards/threshold doctrine" exception to the rule. The administrative law Judge found that Mason's claim was barred since the injury occurred off the employer's premises, the condition of the road was not considered a special hazard, and the road was not owned or maintained by Greenville Manufacturing. The Workers' Compensation Commission affirmed the administrative law Judge's order, but the circuit court reversed stating that there was a "distinct arising out of causal connection between the condition of the subject roadway that Mason had to approach and leave her employer's premises and the occurrence of the injuries she sustained as a result of the subject accident." The circuit court stated that "the course of her employment extended as far as the conditions on Fruit of the Loom Drive" and consequently, "the subject potholes constituted a Special Hazard , and therefore, an exception to the Going and Coming Rule." The circuit court found that the Commission had erred on a question of law in dismissing and barring Mason's claim, and remanded the case for further proceedings to determine those benefits.

Aggrieved, Greenville Manufacturing appeals arguing that the circuit court erred in reversing the Commission's findings since injuries incurred by employees are not compensable when they result from conditions encountered off the employer's premises, while the employee is going to or returning from the workplace. In the alternative, Greenville Manufacturing argues on appeal that even if the pothole could be considered a "special hazard," the circuit court exceeded its scope of review by entering findings in favor of Mason instead of reversing and remanding for a full hearing and fact finding by the Commission. It is this Court's opinion that the circuit court properly held that the Commission erred on a question of law in dismissing and barring Mason's claim. We therefore affirm the circuit court's decision and remand to the Commission for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

FACTS

On August 28, 1994, at approximately 11:00 P.M., Mason, an employee of Fruit of the Loom (a.k.a. Greenville Manufacturing), was injured while driving her 1991 Chevrolet GEO to work. Mason was traveling on a county road, Fruit of the Loom Road, which was the only access and exit to Greenville Manufacturing. Mason was approximately one-half mile from the entrance to Greenville Manufacturing when her right tires struck a pothole causing her to lose control of her vehicle. Mason stated that she was traveling at 30 mph when she hit a pothole, one of approximately 20 potholes on the road measuring several feet wide and six inches or more in depth. After hitting the pothole, Mason's vehicle careened off the road and turned over causing her numerous injuries. Besides Greenville Manufacturing being located on Fruit of the Loom Drive, another business, Waste Management, Inc., is also located between Highway 82 and Greenville Manufacturing, as are approximately five residential homes, a mobile home, and a home currently under construction. Greenville Manufacturing argues that since they are not the only employer located on the road, members of the general public other than their employees regularly use the road. Additionally, since private homes are located along the road, residents frequently travel to and from their homes as do any guests or persons having business at their homes. Consequently, since the road is a public road belonging to Washington County, Greenville Manufacturing argues that they do not have the authority to maintain the road, and the pothole Mason hit was a temporary road condition which was later repaired by Washington County.

Mason argues that even though Fruit of the Loom Drive is a public road, the vast majority of the traffic consists of Greenville Manufacturing employees (approximately 579) going to and coming from work. Mason contends that because of the potholes, the road was extremely dangerous, and that since Greenville Manufacturing officials also used the road, they were on notice of the road conditions. Furthermore, Mason argues that in addition to her, another employee hit the same pothole and damaged his car. Mason stated that traveling the road was made more hazardous by the fact that there was no lighting along the road, and she was forced to travel the road in the darkness since she worked the night shift. Mason contends that she was exposed to a greater risk than the general public because she was required to use the road in order to gain entrance to the work premises; thus, she was exposed to the risk with greater frequency than the general public, which is not required to use this particular road. We agree.

By dismissing Mason's claim, the administrative law Judge and the Commission found that she had not met her burden of proving that her injuries came within the "special hazard/threshold doctrine" exception to the "going and coming rule." However, the circuit court held that there was "a distinct arising out of causal connection between the condition of the subject roadway that Mason had to approach and leave her employer's premises and the occurrence of the injuries she sustained as a result of the subject accident." Consequently, on March 26, 1997, the circuit court reversed the findings of the Commission. Greenville Manufacturing now appeals the circuit court's order.

ARGUMENT AND DISCUSSION OF LAW

I. WHETHER THE COURT ERRED IN REVERSING THE COMMISSION'S FINDING THAT MASON'S CLAIM WAS BARRED BY THE GENERAL RULE THAT INJURIES SUSTAINED BY EMPLOYEES ARE NOT COMPENSABLE IF ENCOUNTERED WHILE THE EMPLOYEE IS OFF THE EMPLOYER'S PREMISES, WHILE THE EMPLOYEE IS GOING TO OR RETURNING FROM WORK.

The standard of review utilized by this Court when considering an appeal of a decision of the Workers' Compensation Commission is well settled. The Mississippi Supreme Court has stated that "[t]he findings and order of the Workers' Compensation Commission are binding on this Court so long as they are 'supported by substantial evidence.'" Vance v. Twin River Homes, Inc. , 641 So. 2d 1176, 1180 (Miss. 1994) (quoting Fought v. Stuart C. Irby Co. , 523 So. 2d 314, 317 (Miss. 1988)). As stated in Delta CMI v. Speck, 586 So. 2d 768, 772-73 (Miss. 1991):

Under settled precedent, courts may not hear evidence in compensation cases.

Rather, their scope of review is limited to a determination of whether or not

the decision of the commission is supported by the substantial evidence. If

so, the decision of the commission should be upheld. The circuit courts act as

intermediate courts of appeal. The Supreme Court, as the circuit courts, acts as

a court of review and is prohibited from hearing evidence or otherwise evaluating

evidence and determining facts;... "[W]hile appeals to the Supreme Court are

technically from the decision of the Circuit Court, the decision of the commission

is that which is actually under review for all practical purposes."

As stated, the substantial evidence rule serves as the basis ...


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