By Judge Brian Addington, Gray
When I was a little boy, we had a friend who owned a farm. We visited often because the farm was on our way to church.
One day, the farmer asked my brother if he wanted to ride his mule. My brother agreed, so the farmer brought out the mule. It had a harness on but not a saddle. As my brother got up on the mule, I stood there admiring him sitting atop the noble beast.
The farmer must’ve noticed my admiration because the next thing I knew, he grabbed me and threw me up onto the mule behind my brother.
Apparently the mule did not admire me as much as I did him, because as fast as I was up there, the mule bucked me off to the ground. I sprang up and hid behind my dad.
I didn’t like going to the farm after that!
Although I had a bad encounter with that mule, we in Tennessee are really fond of them generally. There is the annual Mule Day Festival in Columbia, the Mule Capital of the world. Mules are so loved there that the mule day lasts all week. You can ride mules, watch them, act like them (that’s where you stand around and refuse to do anything anyone else wants to do), and just have some good ‘ole fun.
Then there is the famous Allen Bluff Mule in Liberty. Someone in the early 1900s climbed a bluff and painted a mule on it. It’s been there ever since, and when a road threatened to destroy the mule, the locals protested. It’s okay, folks; the mule made it.
There are several reported cases in Tennessee where individuals were injured by mules, and I’m not counting those due to a yard mule, which is a truck used inside manufacturing facilities.
In looking specifically at workers’ compensation cases, I found two compelling cases where a mule injured an employee.
In 1925, J. H. Russell got kicked by a mule he was using to pull coal cars while working for Big Mountain Collieries. The kick was so powerful that it dislocated his kidney. He received temporary disability benefits, but when the trial court tried to compute his permanent disability benefits, it used a method not contained in the Workers’ Compensation Law. The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed, but fortunately for Mr. Russell, it remanded the case for a new trial.
In 1928, Tempey Frost transported logs for Blue Ridge Timber Corporation using a mule team. He transported four or five loads of lumber that day, and then he decided to stop at a friend’s house, where he “listened to a Victrola and danced a clog dance.” When he left, he was driving the mules while standing on top of the load. Unfortunately for Mr. Frost, the spirited team started to run. He fell, and the wagon ran over him. The trial court found for Mr. Frost’s widow, and the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the preponderance of the evidence did not support the employer’s defense that Mr. Frost was intoxicated at the time of the accident.
I’ll leave this topic with a joke.
Jim, the mayor, had a terrible temper and just generally did not get along with anyone. He barked orders and demanded obedience. He was especially hard on the area farmers. He wanted the town to get away from its agrarian roots.
One day, a sweet old farmer came across a dead mule in the road. It wasn’t his mule; he just happened upon it. After looking it over, he decided to call the mayor.
The mayor was livid. “You’re the farmer. You all know how to deal with dead animals. Why are you calling me, anyway?”
The farmer listened, chuckled a little and replied, “Well, I just thought it was important to notify the next of kin!”