By Judge Brian Addington
I really want to dislike spiders.
Some of it has to do with their ability to avoid destruction; some of it has to do with watching the “It” miniseries; and some of it has to do with walking headlong into a spider web and having a spider the size of a billiard ball land on my neck. Sheesh.
But then there is one of my favorite childhood memories of buying “Charlotte’s Web” at a book fair and later watching the movie when it came out. Dang it, I loved that spider. She was “terrific.”
According to the Tennessee Poison Center, there are two types of venomous spiders in Tennessee: the brown recluse and black widow. Do not look for a safe place, because the TPC says they live in every Tennessee County. (By the way, Granddaddy longlegs are not spiders nor are they venomous.)
Because spiders are everywhere in Tennessee, it means they can show up in the workplace, too. Just the sight of them can scare a person, and even worse, a bite can pose a serious health risk. I had a little scare when I killed one behind my ear at work a few weeks ago; thankfully it didn’t bite me. My Dad received a brown recluse bite once, and it turned into a month-long problem for him. It sounds like a spider bite was even worse for the employee in Atkins v. Wozniak Industries, et al. Under prior Tennessee law, the Supreme Court Special Panel affirmed the trial court’s decision finding a forty percent disability to Mr. Atkins’ whole body after he suffered a spider bite at work.
Under the Reform Act, the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims has already dealt with a pair of cases involving alleged spider bites.
In Harris v. Subway, the employee alleged during an Expedited Hearing that he observed several spiders in the store where he worked. He also testified that as part of his job duties he pulled weeds outside the store. On one such occasion, his hand started itching after pulling weeds. Mr. Harris developed cellulitis in his right hand, which he attributed to his work. The Court, however, found Mr. Harris presented insufficient medical evidence to prove he suffered a compensable injury.
Causation, similarly, was problematic for the employee in Harper v. USF Holland Trucking Co. Mr. Harper alleged during an Expedited Hearing that a spider or insect bit him while driving. Mr. Harper became ill while staying overnight in a hotel. Later, he noticed a red mark on his left leg just above the sock line. Mr. Harper did not know what, if anything, bit him or when. The Court found he failed to present sufficient evidence to prove he suffered an injury that arose primarily out of and in the course and scope of his employment. The Appeals Board affirmed. Mr. Harper made essentially the same arguments at a subsequent Compensation Hearing, where the Court reached the same conclusion.
It is apparent that employees may be subject to encounters with spiders and the possibility of bites at work, whether they are exterminators, restaurant workers, truck drivers or even workers’ compensation judges. Employees and employers, even within an indoor setting, should take precautions to avoid those encounters, especially with Tennessee’s venomous spiders. And, if a bite happens, medical evidence will likely be necessary for an employee to prevail in the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims. (See Scott v. Integrity Staffing Solutions for a discussion on medical causation under the Reform Act.)
All of a sudden, I feel itchy. Sheesh.