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Sherrill & La Follette v. Herring

Supreme Court of Arizona

February 1, 1955

SHERRILL & LA FOLLETTE, doing business as Deer Valley Farm, Petitioners,
v.
Verna May HERRING, widow, Jessie Martin Herring, Jr., Linda Desha Herring and Forrest Douglas Herring, minor children, Dependents of Jessie Martin Herring, deceased, and The Industrial Commission of Arizona, Respondents.

Page 908

[78 Ariz. 333] Lewis, Roca, Scoville & Beauchamp, Charles A. Stanecker, Phoenix, for petitioners.

Patrick W. O'Reilly, Phoenix, for respondent dependents.

Donald J. Morgan, Phoenix, for respondent The Industrial Commission of Arizona.

WINDES, Justice.

This is a 'no insurance' case. Petitioners Charles Sherrill and William LaFollette, co-partners, doing business as Deer Valley Farm, by certiorari bring before us for review[78 Ariz. 334] an award of the Industrial Commission of Arizona, allowing death and accident benefits to respondents, the surviving widow and minor children of Jessie Martin Herring, deceased.

The commission held it had jurisdiction and found, among other things, as a basis for its award that: (1) decedent on August 28, 1952, while employed by petitioners sustained personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment which resulted in his death on August 29, 1952; (2) at the time of the accident Jessie Martin Herring, deceased, was employed by petitioners and at that time the latter had in their service three or more workmen who were subject to the provisions of the workmen's compensation law of this state; and (3) the petitioners (employers) carried no insurance for the benefit of these employees on their Deer Valley Farm operation, and made an award allowing compensation. By appropriate assignments petitioners advance two legal reasons why the award should be set aside; (1) that their farming operation did not fall within the mandatory provisions of the law, and (2) that the decedent so deviated from his employment as to have abandoned same thereby absolving his employer from liability.

The evidence establishes that petitioner Charles Sherrill instructed decedent Jessie M. Herring, the general foreman of the Deer Valley Farm, to take William J. Price, Jr., an employee of Valley Tillage Company, and go to Queen Creek where they were to pick up some palm trees which were to be taken to Eloy for replanting. To carry out these instructions, Price and Herring left Glendale, Arizona, Price driving a 2 1/2-ton flat-bed truck belonging to Valley Tillage Company, and Herring following with the Ford pickup truck owned by Deer Valley Farm which he regularly used as foreman. They arrived at their destination about 12:30 o'clock p. m., and being unable to obtain he trees, Herring telephoned his employer Sherrill for further instructions and was told to leave the big truck at the service station in Queen Creek and for him 'to come back to the ranch'. Price, according to his testimony, was to be taken to a place where he could catch a bus to Eloy or else return with Herring to Glendale. Price elected to return to Glendale. The return trip was by way of a reasonable and direct route through Chandler to Glendale. While on this route, at 5:45 p. m. Herring ran a boulevard stop sign at the intersection of Seventh Street and Glendale Avenue and drove his employer's truck at a speed of approximately fifty miles per hour into the side of another motor vehicle resulting in the death of the driver of that car. Price was severely injured, and Herring received a fatal injury from which he died on the following day. The highway patrolman who investigated the tragedy immediately filed a negligent homicide and reckless-driving charge against Herring, but the latter's death terminated the matter. Petitioner[78 Ariz. 335] Sherrill prevented a blood alcohol test being given to Mr. Herring.

Price in due time filed a claim for workmen's compensation and accident benefits as an employee of Valley Tillage Company, and such benefits were thereafter awarded to him. The employer filed its

Page 909

report of the accident and made no objection to the granting of an award to Price. Petitioners now concede that this was a serious tactical blunder on their part but no one contends that they are thereby precluded from questioning the award made to Herring's dependents.

Petitioners' first contention is the commission had no jurisdiction as the Deer Valley operation does not fall within the mandatory provisions of our Workmen's Compensation Act because there was no showing that there were at the time of the accident three or more workmen employed in the use of machinery as required by section 56-928, 1952 Cum.Supp., A.C.A.1939. Bearing on this question, there was evidence as to the work performed by the more than a score of Deer Valley Farm employees. Most of this number were 'irrigators' or 'choppers', but Sherrill's statements under oath make it clear that even though the cotton crop was then 'laid by', i. e., no further machine cultivating was required, at least three workmen were required to use machinery in the normal course of their duties. Herring, the decedent, was supplied with a truck for his daily use in supervising the operation of the farm. One La Bario, the chief irrigator, used his own truck in the performance of his duties and was compensated by petitioner for the expenses of its operation. W. M. Steenson was the mechanic, who worked on all the machinery. F. A. May, classified on their payroll as 'handy man', frequently used machinery, drove tractors and trucks, and in fact was so engaged during the week in question.

The testimony concerning the duties of these men leads inescapably to the conclusion that there were three or more workmen employed in the use of machinery, and their use thereof was more than the 'casual' or 'occasional' use urged by petitioners as a predicate for the rule they would have us adopt.

We are asked to rule that in order to come under the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act, there must have been three or more workmen employed in the use of machinery on the day of the accident. Reliance is placed upon language used in Hight v. Industrial Commission, 44 Ariz. 129, 34 P.2d 404. That case does not by implication nor otherwise hold that such employees must be actually so employed at the time of the accident. Such contention was heretofore presented to this court and rejected. Marshall v. Industrial Commission, 62 Ariz. 230, 156 P.2d 729.

The commission's finding that petitioners had in their employ three or more regular employees engaged in the use of machinery is adequately supported by the [78 Ariz. 336] record and hence the commission did have jurisdiction to enter an award.

Petitioners contend that even though it be held that their operations brought them under the Act, still the award was improperly made because the facts establish that decedent. Jessie Martin Herring, had abandoned his employment and that the fatal injury suffered in the accident neither arose out of nor in the course of his employment. They rely upon the uncontradicted evidence heretofore set forth, coupled with these additional facts: When Herring and Price arrived at the junction of the Williams Field Road and Chandler-Mesa Highway they decided 'to go down and have a beer'; hence, instead of turning right (north) toward home they turned left (south) and proceeded a block beyond the plaza or square in Chandler to a tavern where admittedly they drank four beers each and played two or three games of shuffleboard before proceeding on their way. In other words, petitioners contend that at the time and place of the accident decedent by reason of the deviation to the tavern had thereby severed and terminated the relationship of employer and employee and was, therefore, not in the course of his employment when he was injured.

The general rule is that in the event an employee operating an automobile in the course of his employment substantially deviates from his regular route for personal reasons and an injury occurs on the route or in the course of the side trip, the employee is outside the course of his employment ...


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