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JBS USA & American Zurich Insurance v. Labor Commission

JBS USA & American Zurich Insurance v. Labor Commission, 2020 UT App 86 (Orme, J.)

Workers’ Compensation

Employee was a professional truck driver who had preexisting conditions in her right knee and lower back when she started working for Employer. While working for Employer, Employee’s semi-truck caught on fire and Employee quickly exited the truck by jumping to the ground and away from the truck (a drop of approximately 40 inches) instead of exiting the truck by climbing down steps. Employee filed for worker’s compensation benefits, claiming she had developed pain in her legs and back from jumping and running away from the truck. The Labor Commission affirmed an award of workers’ compensation benefits to Employee. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed, holding:

  • Employer failed to demonstrate that the Commission’s finding that Employee exited the truck under exigent circumstances was not supported by substantial evidence where Employer did not marshal the evidence supporting the Commission’s findings and highlighted only the evidence it believed undermined Employee’s credibility.
  • Employee’s jump out of and away from the truck under exigent circumstances that caused her to hurry and prevented her from taking precautionary measures was sufficient to constitute an unusual exertion that satisfied the heighted legal cause standard required for individuals with preexisting conditions.
  • It is not dispositive of this case that the height of Employee’s jump from the truck was less than the jumps that constituted an unusual activity in Miera v. Industrial Commission, 728 P.2d 1023 (Utah 1986) because the jumps in Meira were planned events, capable of care in execution, while Employee’s jump in this case was unplanned and the product of an emergency. A jump (like any action) must be evaluated in light of the totality of the circumstances; it is not just a question of height in determining if it is an unusual activity.

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