By Judge Dale Tipps, Murfreesboro
Although my local grocery store was playing Christmas music the day after Halloween, we shouldn’t forget about Thanksgiving.
More to the point, we should all be careful to adequately prepare for the hazards of Thanksgiving. I’m not talking about the usual issues of overeating or the general stress of being in the same room with your crazy uncle. Nor am I referring to the time a certain middle-aged judge blew out his ACL playing an ill-advised football game in the backyard while waiting for the pie to be served.
No, I’m talking turkey.
In Giles Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Hickman, 547 S.W.2d 944 (Tenn. 1977), the employee injured his back while loading frozen turkeys on a school bus. (The record is silent on why Mr. Hickman was loading frozen turkeys on a school bus or why such an activity would be within the scope of his duty as a bus driver.)
The county’s insurance agent told Mr. Hickman that his claim would be paid but that it would “take a while to get everything worked up.” However, the county notified Mr. Hickman a little over a year later that his claim was denied for failure to give proper notice of the injury. The Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s finding that the county’s failure to deny liability for over a year equitably estopped it from asserting a statute-of-limitations defense. Quoting an 1880 U.S. Supreme Court case, the Court explained the doctrine of equitable estoppel thusly: “What I induce my neighbor to regard as true is the truth as between us, if he has been misled by my asseveration.”
A more somber case is Heaton v. Board of Educ., 2000 Tenn. LEXIS 39 (Tenn. Workers’ Comp. Panel Jan. 14, 2000). Ms. Heaton worked as a school cook in Elizabethton. While preparing turkeys for the Thanksgiving meal, she poked her hand with a turkey bone. The wound became infected, and Ms. Heaton developed necrotizing fasciitis and died about five days later.
The trial court based its decision to award benefits in part on the testimony of Ms. Heaton’s daughter and husband regarding statements she made to them about her injury. The Panel found the trial court might have erred in admitting some of these statements over a hearsay objection. However, the Panel determined the information contained in the statements was admissible because it was also given to Ms. Heaton’s doctor “for the purposes of medical diagnosis and treatment,” which is a hearsay exception under Rule 803(4).
I was unable to identify any cases involving injuries arising out of pumpkin pie or stuffing (“dressing,” if you’re a Middle Tennessee native). However, if you would like to explore the early development of the employee misconduct defense, you should read Leonard v. Cranberry Furnace Co., 265 S.W. 543 (Tenn. 1924), while you’re waiting for dessert.
It’s safer than playing football with the young people.