Circumstantial Evidence Insufficient to Overcome Clearly Erroneous Standard of Review

Decedent’s wife appealed the Workers’ Compensation Judge’s (“WCJ”) finding that she failed to establish her husband was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of his death. The decedent and his brother operated a company that engaged in crawfish farming on various lands. Some of the land was owned by B&B Farms. On July 8, 2010, the decedent was discovered dead, electrocuted while welding a metal pole on lands owned by B&B Farms. The resolution of the claim turned on the activity being performed by the decedent at the time of his death.

The morning of decedent’s death, the evidence demonstrated that he was welding metal poles for duck houses he intended to place at his home. He stopped welding, had a conversation with his brother, and then began welding again. Shortly afterwards, decedent was found lying on the ground. It was undisputed that the cause of his death was electrocution and that the accident was unwitnessed. The decedent’s wife posited that her husband had finished welding the duck houses and was welding a canopy for a tractor owned by B&B Farms at the time of his death. The WCJ found that the evidence was insufficient to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the decedent was working on the tractor at the time of his death.

Because the decedent was alone, there was no direct evidence as to what the decedent was doing at the time of his death. The circumstantial evidence demonstrated that there were duck houses and metal pole stands in the area. The claimant provided several instances which she believed circumstantially established that the decedent was working on the tractor. She stated she overheard her husband speaking to his father about putting a canopy on the company tractor. His father did not remember the conversation, but both the decedent’s father and brother testified that they all had discussed putting a canopy on the company tractor for some months.

Additionally, the claimant stated that the workers’ compensation investigative file demonstrated that the decedent had finished with the duck houses and had started working on the canopy at the time of his death. Finally, claimant stated that the metal pole found next to the decedent would not have fit the base of the duck houses.

The court noted that there was no evidence in the record on what the metal poles for the company tractor would have looked like. Furthermore, the tractor that the claimant claimed the decedent was working on was not near the incident site, but rather was in the shed. Finally, the court noted that neither the claimant nor decedent’s father and brother were there at the time of decedent’s death. The court held that while there was some circumstantial evidence establishing that the decedent was working on the company tractor at the time of his death, the record as a whole supports the conclusion that WCJ’s findings of fact on this issue was reasonable.

Granger v. B&B Farms of Mamou, Inc.