Prater v. Indiana Briquetting Corp.

Decision Date30 October 1969
Docket NumberNos. 768,s. 768
Citation251 N.E.2d 810,253 Ind. 83
PartiesVirginia PRATER and Virginia Prater, as natural Guardian of Mark Prater, a minor, Appellants, v. INDIANA BRIQUETTING CORPORATION, Appellee. A 119, 1069 S 256.
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

HUNTER, Judge.

This action involves a claim for death benefits under the Indiana Workmen's Compensation Act against the Indiana Briquetting Corporation, appellee. The appellants are individually, the widow, and the widow as natural guardian of the minor child of deceased. Hearing was had before a single member of the Industrial Board and the Full Board, and upon a finding adverse to appellants in both instances, appeal was taken to the Appellate Court. The Full Industrial Board finding was affirmed by that court, Prater v. Indiana Briquetting Corp. (1969), Ind.App., 246 N.E.2d 206, and we accepted transfer.

The evidence most favorable to the appellee discloses the following: Appellants' decedent, Earmon Prater, on November 3, 1966 was employed by the Indiana Briquetting Corp., appellee, on the night shift running from 5 o'clock P.M. until five o'clock A.M. One other person was also working in the plant on the night of the accident. Sometime after 8:00 P.M. the decedent and the other employee, one Vernon Ousley tossed a coin to determine who would buy Cokes. Decedent lost and proceeded to a nearby business establishment, 'Woodie's Rent-It' where a Coke machine was located. A railroad track was situated between appellee's plant and 'Woodie's Rent-It' and as decedent was crossing the track he was struck and killed by a passing train.

The sole issue in this case is whether decedent's injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment. In deciding this question, the Appellate Court held that the evidence was sufficient to support the Full Board's denial of benefits and that as a matter of law it was not forced to reach a contrary conclusion.

We disagree. It is established beyond doubt that the Workmen's Compensation laws are to be liberally construed. Marshall v. Tribune-Star Publishing Co. (1968), Ind.App., 236 N.E.2d 508; Indiana Toll Road Commission v. Bartusch (1962), 135 Ind.App. 123, 184 N.E.2d 34; Pollock v. Studebaker Corp. (1952), 230 Ind. 622, 105 N.E.2d 513; Louisville, N.A. & C.R. Co. v. Emily (1938), 105 Ind.App. 123, 12 N.E.2d 1002. With this proposition as a starting point, we must carefully analyze each case to determine whether the injury resulted from a situation which might be deemed to have arisen out of and in the course of the injured party's employment so as to be covered by the provisions of our Workmen's Compensation Law.

In scrutinizing the facts in the case at bar, we note, as did Judge Sharp on the Appellate Court, in his dissenting opinion, what we consider to be several significant factors: although there apparently was an unwritten rule against leaving the premises during the working hours, the employees of appellee had for three or four years gone to 'Woodie's Rent-It' to obtain soft drinks. In fact, the evidence indicates that the plant manager himself on various occasions had sent the employees after refreshments:

'Q I am not sure of one thing. You have said that you were aware they went and got Cokes on their lunch period over here. Were you aware that they went on day or night, they went and got them occasionally when they would take a break?

A Well, I hoped that, being a good boss, a lot of times, I would send them to get Cokes or something. Being hot, I would send them down after root beer and coffee and doughnuts, every now and then.

Q On occasion other than lunch period?

A Yes, other than lunch period.'

Also, there were only four of five employees in appellee's entire operation yet the plant manager could not recall actually telling the deceased he was not to leave the premises to get a soft drink on break periods. An employee who had worked at 'Woodie's Rent-It' for three years testified that employees of appellee came to get soft drinks 'quite frequently' or about every day and their visits were not limited to any particular time of day or night. The same employee who had been working with deceased the night of the accident testified that he was aware of the 'policy' against leaving the premises but that he had been accustomed to getting soft drinks at 'Woodie's' for three or four years and his supervisor had never said anything to him about it.

The mere fact that deceased was struck and killed while off the premises of his employer does not, of itself, preclude recovery, and we have so held:

'Whether the accident occurred 'on' or 'off' the employer's premises is but one factor among many which we must consider in determining if a causal relation between the accident and employment exists.' United States Steel Corp. v. Brown (1967), Ind.App., 231 N.E.2d 839, 841. (our emphasis)

The crux of the issue then is whether or not there is a causal relation between the accident and the employment. B.P.O. Elks, #209 v. Sponholtz (1969), Ind.App., 244 N.E.2d 923; Mathews v. Jim and Ed's Service Station (1964), 136 Ind.App. 28, 196 N.E.2d 282; Mishawaka Rubber and Woolen Manufacturing Company v. Walker, et al. (1949), 119 Ind.App. 309, 84 N.E.2d 897; Williams v. School City of Winchester (1937), 104 Ind.App. 83, 10 N.E.2d 314; Empire Health etc. Ins. Co. v. Purcell (1921), 76 Ind.App. 551, 132 N.E. 664. A causal relation is said to exist when:

'* * * the accident arises out of a risk which a reasonably prudent person might comprehend as incidental to the employment at the time of entering into it, or when the facts show an incidental connection between the conditions under which (the) employee works and the injury.' Lasear, Inc. v. Anderson et al. (1934), 99 Ind.App. 428, 434, 192 N.E. 762, 765.

See also Williams v. School City of Winchester, supra, and cases there cited.

Early our courts held that an employee could be performing acts personal to himself and yet should an accident occur such accident would be considered to have arisen out of and in the course of employment:

'Such acts as are necessary to the life, comfort, and convenience of the workman, while at work, though personal to himself, and not technically acts of service, are incidental to the service; and an accident occurring in the performance of such acts is deemed to have arisen out of the employment. Such acts are regarded as inevitable incidents of the employment, and accidents happening in the performance of such acts are regarded as arising out of and in the course of the employment.' Holland-St. Louis Sugar Co. v. Shraluka (1917), 64 Ind.App. 545, 549, 116 N.E. 330, 331 (Our emphasis.) This doctrine has been re-affirmed and is still the law. Ve...

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    ...15 minute coffee breaks. See, E.g., Jordan v. Western Electric Co., 1 Or.App. 441, 463 P.2d 598 (1970); Prater v. Indiana Briquetting Corporation, 253 Ind. 83, 251 N.E.2d 810 (1969); Caporale v. Department of Taxation & Finance, 2 A.D.2d 91, 153 N.Y.S.2d 738 (1956), aff'd, 2 N.Y.2d 946, 162......
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