Case name: Dixon v. Travelers Indemnity Co., No. W2010-00339-SC-R3-WC (Tenn. 03/03/11).
Ruling: The Tennessee Supreme Court held that a driver was entitled to benefits for injuries he sustained when his truck was hit by a tornado.
What it means: In Tennessee, when an employee suffers an injury due to an uncontrolled force of nature, the employee must prove the injury was caused by an increased risk peculiar to the nature of the employment and not a danger common to the general public at the time and place where it occurred.
A truck driver was driving an 18-wheel tractor-trailer in heavy traffic when he encountered hard rain and wind. As the storm intensified, he slowed his speed and decided to get off the interstate to seek shelter. Traffic was backed up on the exit ramp, so he decided to drive to the next exit. As he continued driving, he saw a billboard or exit sign blow across the highway. The driver then slowed his speed further. His vehicle began to vibrate and shake, so he looked in his rearview mirror and saw the truck's trailer rising up off the ground. Then a tornado struck the rig and lifted it off the ground. The entire rig was hurled through the air and dropped a half mile down the road, where it rolled into a ditch. As a result, the driver sustained lacerations to his head, feet, shoulders, and legs, as well as an injury to his shoulder that required surgery. The Tennessee Supreme Court held that he was entitled to benefits.
The court concluded that the driver had a higher risk of injury because of his employment. Engineers testified that it would take less wind force to overturn the truck than a car. Also, the driver was required to take a certain route and adhere to a strict time schedule.
The court also found that the driver did not have a meaningful return to work. The driver reasonably refused his employer's offer in another city because he was still in pain and receiving physical therapy.
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April 7, 2011
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