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Steen v. Texas Mutual Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

August 29, 2019

PATRICIA STEEN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NEXT FRIEND OF B.S., A MINOR, APPELLANT
v.
TEXAS MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLEE

          On Appeal from the 99th District Court Lubbock County, Texas Trial Court No. 2016-521, 658, Honorable William C. Sowder, Presiding

          Before QUINN, C.J., and CAMPBELL and PIRTLE, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          James T. Campbell Justice

         In this workers' compensation case concerning course and scope of employment, appellant Patricia Steen, individually and as next friend of the minor, B.S., appeals the trial court's judgment denying benefits for the death of her husband, Bill C. Steen. At the time of his death Steen was an employee of Caprock Construction, LLC whose workers' compensation carrier was appellee Texas Mutual Insurance Company. We will overrule Mrs. Steen's three issues and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On February 23, 2015, Chuck Dorrity was the owner of Caprock, a "dirt contracting" company doing oil field work. It employed Steen as a motor-grader operator. Caprock assigned Steen a company pickup truck which he used for "both work and personal reasons." Although Dorrity and Steen lived in Lubbock, Caprock's office was in Greenwood, Texas, outside Midland. Evidence showed Dorrity did not go to the Greenwood office daily and generally did not require Caprock employees to do so either if a job was not in progress.

         The evidence shows that on February 23 roadways in the Lubbock-Midland area were icy. At approximately 8:00 a.m. that day Steen was driving southbound in the company vehicle on State Highway 137 in Martin County, north of Stanton. He was accompanied by a friend, Dustin Hansen, who was also from Lubbock. Steen encountered an icy patch of pavement and lost control of the vehicle, which left the highway and rolled over. Steen died of his resulting injuries. Hansen sustained injuries but recovered.

         After Texas Mutual denied Mrs. Steen's claim for worker's compensation death benefits, a hearing officer for the Texas Department of Insurance-Division of Workers' Compensation found that Steen was not in the course and scope of employment at the time of his death. The decision was affirmed by the appeals panel without opinion. Mrs. Steen then challenged the adverse administrative decision by filing a petition for judicial review in district court. After a hearing the district court rendered judgment affirming the Department's determination.

         Analysis

         By her first and second issues Mrs. Steen challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court's determination that Steen did not sustain a compensable injury resulting in his death. The compensability issue this appeal presents is whether Steen was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of his death.

         Mrs. Steen's contention her husband was acting in the course and scope of employment when the accident occurred is based primarily on Hansen's testimony that he believed he and Steen were traveling to meet Dorrity for an interview for Hansen's possible employment by Caprock. In support of its judgment, the trial court issued findings of fact which included the following:

Billy Steen, Deceased (hereinafter "Decedent"), was employed by Caprock Construction as a motor grader operator on February 23, 2015.
In late February 2015, Caprock Construction's business was down and the company did not have any jobs.
Dorrity was not hiring any new employees in February 2015, and if he needed to hire a new employee in February 2015, he already ...

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