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Coughlin v. County of Colfax

Court of Appeals of Nebraska

April 2, 2019

Addisen E. Coughlin, a minor child and dependent of Daniel Coughlin, by and through her Conservator. Kyle J. Coughlin, appellant,
v.
County of Colfax, Nebraska, appellee.

         1. Workers' Compensation: Appeal and Error. Determinations by a trial judge of the Workers' Compensation Court will not be disturbed on appeal unless they are contrary to law or depend on findings of fact which are clearly wrong in light of the evidence.

         2. ___: ___ . In reviewing workers' compensation cases, an appellate court is not free to weigh the facts anew; rather, it accords to the findings of the compensation court the same force and effect as a jury verdict in a civil case.

         3. Evidence: Appeal and Error. In testing the sufficiency of the evidence to support the findings of fact, an appellate court considers the evidence in the light most favorable to the successful party, every controverted fact must be resolved in favor of the successful party, and the appellate court gives the successful party the benefit of every inference reasonably deducible from the evidence.

         4. Workers' Compensation: Appeal and Error. An appellate court is obligated in workers' compensation cases to make its own determinations as to questions of law.

         5. Workers' Compensation: Proof. The two phrases "arising out of and "in the course of in Neb. Rev. Stat. § 48-101 (Reissue 2010) are conjunctive; in order to recover, a claimant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that both conditions exist.

         6. ___: ___ . The phrase "arising out of," as used in Neb. Rev. Stat. § 48-101 (Reissue 2010), describes the accident and its origin, cause, and character, i.e., whether it resulted from the risks arising within the scope of the employee's job; the phrase "in the course of," as used in § 48-101, refers to the time, place, and circumstances surrounding the accident.

          [27 Neb.App. 42] 7. Workers' Compensation: Words and Phrases. The "in the course of requirement of Neb. Rev. Stat. § 48-101 (Reissue 2010) has been defined as testing the work connection as to time, place, and activity; that is, it demands that the injury be shown to have arisen within the time and space boundaries of the employment, and in the course of an activity whose purpose is related to the employment.

         8. Workers' Compensation. Injuries sustained by an employee while going to and from work at a fixed place of employment do not arise out of and in the course of employment unless a distinct causal connection exists between an employer-created condition and the occurrence of the injury.

         9. Workers' Compensation: Proof. The employee has the burden to establish the presence of a causal connection between an employer-created condition and his or her injury.

         10. Workers' Compensation. For the going to and from work rule to apply, an employer must have a fixed place of employment.

         11. ___ . The recognized exceptions to the going to and from work rule, each of which follow from the rule's requirement that an employee show a causal connection between an employer-created condition and his or her injury, include the employer-supplied transportation exception, the commercial traveler exceptions, and the special errand exception.

         12. Appeal and Error. An appellate court is not obligated to engage in an analysis that is not necessary to adjudicate the case and controversy before it.

          Appeal from the Workers' Compensation Court: Julie A. Martin, Judge.

          Linsey Moran Bryant and Bradley E. Nick, of Sidner Law, for appellant.

          David A. Dudley and Eric J. Sutton, of Baylor Evnen, L.L.P., for appellee.

          Moore, Chief Judge, and Pirtle and Arterburn, Judges.

          MOORE, CHIEF JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case arises out of the death of Daniel Coughlin, a deputy with the Colfax County Sheriff's Department (the Department). Daniel was survived by his daughter, Addisen E. Coughlin. [27 Neb.App. 43] Kyle J. Coughlin, Daniel's brother and Addisen's conservator, filed a petition in the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Court seeking benefits for Addisen from the County of Colfax, Nebraska (the County). Finding no causal connection between an employer-created condition and Daniel's death, the compensation court concluded that Daniel's death did not arise out of and in the course of his employment with the County. As a result, the court denied Kyle's petition. Kyle appeals, and for the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         II. BACKGROUND

         While Daniel was driving home from work on the morning of lanuary 12, 2016, he had a cell phone conversation with Deputy Shawn Messerlie, whose shift had just begun. The conversation took place about 5 minutes after Daniel clocked out from his 12-hour shift. During that conversation, the left front side of Daniel's vehicle hit a deer carcass that was lying on the highway. Daniel's vehicle dragged the carcass for about 70 feet before he lost control. Another vehicle driving in the opposite lane of traffic collided with the driver's side of Daniel's vehicle, and the collision caused Daniel's death.

         On December 22, 2016, Kyle filed a petition in the Workers' Compensation Court alleging that Daniel's death was a compensable injury under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 48-101 (Reissue 2010) because it occurred in the course and scope of his employment with the County. On account of that injury, Kyle's petition sought benefits for Addisen under Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 48-122 (Cum. Supp. 2018), 48-124 (Reissue 2010), and 48-125 (Cum. Supp. 2016). In response, the County filed an answer denying that Daniel's death arose out of and in the course of his employment. Prior to trial, the parties filed a joint pretrial memorandum, which provided the following stipulations:

1. The date of the death was lanuary 12, 2OI6[, ] and at that time Deputy Daniel Coughlin was an employee at the Colfax County Sheriff's Department, County of Colfax, Nebraska.
[27 Neb.App. 44] 2. Daniel Coughlin was talking on his cell phone with Deputy Shawn Messerlie while driving in his own vehicle in Colfax County on or about January 12, 2016.
3. During said phone conversation [, ] which lasted from approximately 7:06 a.m. to 7:11 a.m., on that date, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident resulting in his death.
4.Addisen Coughlin was at all time[s] relevant herein, a dependent of Daniel Coughlin as defined by Neb. Rev. Stat[.] §48-124(3).
5. The parties stipulate that the average weekly wage of Daniel Coughlin at the time of the accident and his death ...

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