Mudlin v. Hills Materials Co., No. 23432.

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Writing for the CourtSABERS, Justice.
Citation2005 SD 64,698 N.W.2d 67
Docket NumberNo. 23432.
Decision Date25 May 2005
PartiesVanessa L. MUDLIN, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. HILLS MATERIALS COMPANY and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Defendants and Appellants.

698 N.W.2d 67
2005 SD 64

Vanessa L. MUDLIN, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
HILLS MATERIALS COMPANY and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Defendants and Appellants

No. 23432.

Supreme Court of South Dakota.

Argued April 26, 2005.

Decided May 25, 2005.


698 N.W.2d 70
Wm. Jason Groves, Groves Law Office, Rapid City, SD, for plaintiff and appellee

Gregory G. Strommen of Costello, Porter, Hill, Heisterkamp, Bushnell & Carpenter, Rapid City, SD, for defendants and appellants.

SABERS, Justice.

[¶ 1.] Vanessa Mudlin (Mudlin) was employed by Hills Materials Company (Hills) of Rapid City, South Dakota. She was assigned to a crew that was working on a road construction project near Faith, South Dakota. While traveling to the job site, Mudlin was injured as a result of a one-vehicle accident. She filed a claim for workers' compensation against Hills and its insurer. The South Dakota Department of Labor ruled in favor of Mudlin. The circuit court affirmed and Hills appeals to this Court. We affirm.

Facts

[¶ 2.] In the spring of 1999, Mudlin lived in Rapid City, South Dakota, and was employed by Hills as a flagger, laborer, and material spreader. Mudlin was assigned to a crew that was working on a road construction project near Faith, approximately 125 miles from Rapid City.

[¶ 3.] At approximately 5:30 a.m. on Monday, June 7, 1999, Mudlin arrived at Hills' headquarters, which was located at its quarry in Rapid City.1 After discovering that her work crew had already departed, Mudlin set-off for Faith in her personal vehicle.2 During the trip, Mudlin was involved in a one-vehicle accident between Newell and Faith. Mudlin admits that she fell asleep at the wheel and as a result her car left the road and rolled twice. Mudlin was found lying 30 feet from her vehicle with injuries to her head, abdomen, and left leg. Mudlin was taken to the emergency room at Lookout Memorial Hospital in Spearfish and then transferred to Rapid City where she was hospitalized for several weeks following the accident.

[¶ 4.] Mudlin brought a claim for workers' compensation benefits against Hills and its insurer, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. After an administrative hearing on the matter, the South Dakota Department of Labor ruled in favor of Mudlin. Hills appealed the agency's decision to the circuit court. The circuit court affirmed the Department of Labor's ruling. Hills appeals to this Court, raising the following issues:

1. Whether the trial court erred in holding that Mudlin's injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment.
2. Whether the trial court erred in holding that Mudlin gave timely and proper notice of her injuries.
3. Whether the trial court erred in holding that Mudlin's claim was not barred by willful misconduct.

Standard of Review

[¶ 5.] "In a worker's compensation case, we review the agency's decision in the same manner as the circuit court." Norton v. Deuel School District, 2004 SD

698 N.W.2d 71
6, ¶ 5, 674 N.W.2d 518, 520 (citing Sopko v. C & R Transfer Co., Inc., 2003 SD 69, ¶ 7, 665 N.W.2d 94, 96). Neither the agency's decision nor the circuit court's decision is presumed correct. Id. (citing Grauel v. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, 2000 SD 145, ¶ 7, 619 N.W.2d 260, 262). Great weight is given to the agency's findings of fact and to the inferences drawn from the facts. Id. Our standard of review on factual issues is clearly erroneous, meaning we will reverse only if we are "definitely and firmly convinced a mistake has been committed." Id. However, "we review findings based on deposition testimony and documentary evidence under a de novo standard of review." Grauel, 2000 SD 145, ¶ 7, 619 N.W.2d at 262 (quoting Wagaman v. Sioux Falls Construction, 1998 SD 27, ¶ 12, 576 N.W.2d 237, 240). Questions of law are also reviewed under the de novo standard. Norton, 2004 SD 6, ¶ 5, 674 N.W.2d at 520

[¶ 6.] 1. Whether the trial court erred in holding that Mudlin's injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment.

[¶ 7.] Generally, employees injured while going to and coming from work are not covered under workers' compensation. South Dakota Public Entity Pool For Liability v. Winger, 1997 SD 77, ¶ 19, 566 N.W.2d 125, 131 (stating the "going and coming" rule). To recover under workers' compensation, a claimant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that she sustained an injury "arising out of and in the course of the employment." SDCL 62-1-1(7); Norton, 2004 SD 6, ¶ 7, 674 N.W.2d at 520. The claimant must prove that "the employment or employment-related activities are a major contributing cause of the condition complained of." SDCL 62-1-1(7)(a).

[¶ 8.] We construe the phrase "arising out of and in the course of employment" liberally. Norton, 2004 SD 6, ¶ 10, 674 N.W.2d at 521. Therefore, application of the workers' compensation statutes is not limited solely to the times when the employee is engaged in the work that he was hired to perform. Id.

[¶ 9.] Both factors of the analysis, "arising out of" employment and "in the course of employment," must be present in all claims for workers' compensation. Id. ¶ 11. However, while each factor must be analyzed independently, they are part of the general inquiry of whether the injury or condition complained of is connected to the employment. Id. Therefore, the factors are prone to some interplay and "deficiencies in the strength of one factor are sometimes allowed to be made up by strength in the other." Id. (quoting 2 Arthur Larson, Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 29, 29-1 (1999)).

[¶ 10.] Hills argues that because Mudlin's injuries resulted from a traffic accident that occurred miles from her job site and before her work day had begun, they did not "arise out of" and "in the course of" her employment.

"Arising out of" the Employment

[¶ 11.] In order for an injury to "arise out of" the employment, the employee must show that there is a "causal connection between the injury and the employment." Id. ¶ 8 (quoting Canal Insurance Co. v. Abraham, 1999 SD 90, ¶ 12, 598 N.W.2d 512, 516). The employment need not be the direct or the proximate cause of the injury, rather it is sufficient if "the accident had its origin in the hazard to which the employment exposed the employee while doing [her] work." Id. (quoting Canal Insurance Co., 1999 SD 90, ¶ 12, 598 N.W.2d at 516). The injury "arose out of" the employment if: 1) the employment contributes to causing the injury; 2) the

698 N.W.2d 72
activity is one in which the employee might reasonably engage; or 3) the activity brings about the disability upon which compensation is based. Id. (citing Grauel, 2000 SD 145, ¶ 12, 619 N.W.2d at 263)

[¶ 12.] Hills had a specific policy that required employees to use their personal vehicles to get to and from the job site when company vehicles were not available. A memo was issued by Hills' President, Lynn Kading, to all supervisors and crew leaders on January 4, 1999, clarifying the company's policy regarding travel pay. In regard to the use of personal vehicles, the memo provides in pertinent part:

If no company vehicle is used to transport employees, employees are expected to furnish personal transportation to the jobsite.

Furthermore, the memo specifies that employees will be partially reimbursed for travel expenses when their job requires travel beyond one-half hour of their base location.3

698 N.W.2d 73
[¶ 13.] On the day of the accident, Mudlin was conducting herself in accordance with established company practice and its travel policy. She first went to the quarry, as dictated by company practice.4 When she discovered that her crew had already left, Mudlin used her personal vehicle to transport herself to the job site, as required by the company's travel policy. Furthermore, Mudlin had used her personal vehicle for transportation to and from the job site on a number of occasions prior to the accident. In fact, her supervisor testified that 90% of the time Mudlin would drive her own vehicle to the job site and the record indicates that she had been compensated in accordance with the company's travel pay policy for those previous trips. Nothing in the record suggests that Hills would not have expected Mudlin to use her personal vehicle to travel to the job site on June 7, 1999 and compensate her for the trip.

[¶ 14.] Given the above, the act of traveling to the job site in her personal vehicle on the day of the accident was an activity "in which the employee might reasonably engage." As such, there is a causal connection between the injuries that Mudlin sustained while traveling to the job site and her employment. Therefore, Mudlin's injuries "arose out of" her employment. See generally id.

"In the Course of Employment"

[¶ 15.] "This Court has made it clear that the words `in the course of employment' refer to the time, place and circumstances of the injury." Bearshield v. City of Gregory, 278 N.W.2d 166, 168 (S.D.1979). "An employee is considered within his course of employment if he is doing something that is either naturally or incidentally related to his employment or which he is either expressly or impliedly authorized to do by the contract or nature of the employment." Id. See also Norton, 2004 SD 6, ¶ 9, 674 N.W.2d at 521; Steinberg v. South Dakota Dept. of Military and Veterans Affairs, 2000 SD 36, ¶ 21, 607 N.W.2d 596, 603.

[¶ 16.] Here, Mudlin's crew was performing road construction at a remote job site which was 125 miles from the company's base location. Because employees were required to travel from the company's base location to the job site in order to perform their individual job duties, it can be said that the journey between the base location and the job site was naturally related to the employment.

[¶ 17.] Additionally, Hills has a specific policy governing travel from its base location in Rapid City to remote job sites. This policy expressly requires employees "to furnish personal transportation to the jobsite"...

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15 practice notes
  • Orth v. Stoebner & Permann Const., Inc., No. 23731.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • November 15, 2006
    ...an injury must provide the employer with written notice of the injury within three days of its occurrence. Mudlin v. Hills Materials Co., 2005 SD 64, ¶ 21, 698 N.W.2d 67, 74. "However, when an employer [has] `actual knowledge' of the injury, the failure to provide notice does not bar t......
  • Wise v. Brooks Const. Services, No. 23938.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 23, 2006
    ...evidence under the de novo standard of review.'" Holscher, 2006 SD 35, ¶ 29, 713 N.W.2d at 564 (citing Mudlin v. Hills Materials Co., 2005 SD 64, ¶ 5, 698 N.W.2d 67, 71 (citation omitted)). "Questions of law are reviewed de novo. Mixed questions of law and fact are also fully revi......
  • Mudlin v. Hills Materials Co., No. 24339.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • November 14, 2007
    ...Hills appealed to the circuit court, which agreed with the Department. On appeal, this Court affirmed in Mudlin v. Hills Materials Company, 2005 SD 64, ¶ 1, 698 N.W.2d 67, 70 (Mudlin [¶ 4.] Mudlin sued Hills, its owners Oldcastle Materials, Inc. and Oldcastle, Inc.3 and Hills' insurer, Libe......
  • Holscher v. Valley Queen Cheese Factory, No. 23657.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • April 5, 2006
    ...findings based on deposition testimony and documentary evidence under the de novo standard of review.'" Mudlin v. Hills Materials Co., 2005 SD 64, ¶ 5, 698 N.W.2d 67, 71 (quoting Grauel v. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, 2000 SD 145, ¶ 7, 619 N.W.2d 260, 262) (citation ANA......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
15 cases
  • Orth v. Stoebner & Permann Const., Inc., No. 23731.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • November 15, 2006
    ...an injury must provide the employer with written notice of the injury within three days of its occurrence. Mudlin v. Hills Materials Co., 2005 SD 64, ¶ 21, 698 N.W.2d 67, 74. "However, when an employer [has] `actual knowledge' of the injury, the failure to provide notice does not bar t......
  • Wise v. Brooks Const. Services, No. 23938.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 23, 2006
    ...evidence under the de novo standard of review.'" Holscher, 2006 SD 35, ¶ 29, 713 N.W.2d at 564 (citing Mudlin v. Hills Materials Co., 2005 SD 64, ¶ 5, 698 N.W.2d 67, 71 (citation omitted)). "Questions of law are reviewed de novo. Mixed questions of law and fact are also fully revi......
  • Mudlin v. Hills Materials Co., No. 24339.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • November 14, 2007
    ...Hills appealed to the circuit court, which agreed with the Department. On appeal, this Court affirmed in Mudlin v. Hills Materials Company, 2005 SD 64, ¶ 1, 698 N.W.2d 67, 70 (Mudlin [¶ 4.] Mudlin sued Hills, its owners Oldcastle Materials, Inc. and Oldcastle, Inc.3 and Hills' insurer, Libe......
  • Holscher v. Valley Queen Cheese Factory, No. 23657.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • April 5, 2006
    ...findings based on deposition testimony and documentary evidence under the de novo standard of review.'" Mudlin v. Hills Materials Co., 2005 SD 64, ¶ 5, 698 N.W.2d 67, 71 (quoting Grauel v. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, 2000 SD 145, ¶ 7, 619 N.W.2d 260, 262) (citation ANA......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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