The Arkansas Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed an Arkansas Worker’s Compensation Commission’s finding that said injuries suffered by a former maintenance worker with the Pine Bluff Housing Authority were not compensable. Leroy Dorn Jr. had sought the compensation after a May 5, 2015, altercation between himself and housing authority co-worker Bruce Spicer on the employee parking lot in front of the maintenance building.
Dorn and Spicer were there for a meeting called by their supervisor regarding an incident between the two the previous day. Dorn received injuries, including tooth avulsion, contusion to the left elbow, and fractures to the left orbital bones, left maxillary sinus and right maxillary sinus.
The ruling by Appeals Court Chief Judge Rita Gruber said Pine Bluff Police Officer Chrisanthia Kendrick, who was on the parking lot for an unrelated reason, tried to intervene when she saw Spicer strike Dorn in the head, face, body and shoulder with a baseball bat. She repeatedly yelled at Spicer to stop, then tased him. Spicer was arrested on a battery charge. Several days later, the housing authority fired Dorn and Spicer for workplace violence. Prosecutors filed formal charges of first-degree battery against Spicer in August 2015 in the case.
Dorn sought benefits, including medical expenses and total disability claims, but they were denied by the housing authority, which said the altercation resulted from personal differences between the two men and was not work related. That decision was based in part on Spicer’s claim that the day before the incident, Dorn had pulled a knife on him and accused him of stealing cleaning supplies and other items.
An administrative law judge heard the case and ruled in Dorn’s favor, saying that the injuries were due to a work-related argument over missing cleaning supplies and personal items while Dorn was attending an employee-mandated meeting. The ruling was appealed to the commission, which ruled against Dorn.
In its ruling, the commission found that Dorn was an “active participant’ in the incident as a result of his personal animosity to Spicer and said he was not conducting employee services at the time of the incident. In appealing that ruling, Dorn contended that the commission was wrong when they said he was an active participant and was not performing work-related services at the time.
“His arguments are well taken,” Gruber said in the court decision.
She said that “substantial evidence does not support the commission’s claim that Dorn was an active participant in the workplace assault,” adding that testimony from Dorn, his supervisor and the police report indicated that Spicer was “looking out the window of the building” when Dorn pulled up for the meeting, walked out the door, opened the door of a company vehicle “and just stood there waiting” in the route Dorn would have to take to enter the building.
Spicer had claimed that Dorn pulled a knife on him the previous day and had threatened him with physical harm, a statement other employees confirmed.
“None of those findings overcome the undisputed evidence that the May 5 assault consisted solely of Spicer striking Dorn with the baseball bat,” Gruber said.
Regarding the commission’s decision that Dorn was not performing work-related activity, Gruber said in the ruling that Dorn arrived on time for the meeting and parked on the employee’s parking lot. And although his employer knew of the friction between Dorn and Spicer, there were no supervisors around, “thus presenting a possibly dangerous situation without anyone present to protect Dorn when Spicer arrived to clock in.”
Although ruling that Dorn is entitled to compensation for the work-related injuries, the court sent the case to the worker’s compensation commission to determine if Dorn is entitled to temporary total disability benefits.