Workers' Compensation

A Cat in a Pinafore…….and a Little Bit About the Delaware Farm Exclusion

Nutella Grace in her Christmas Dress

    Jocelyn and Nutella Grace

I was going to title this one "The Thanksgiving Post".....but it just doesn't fit with my photos of Nutella Grace in her new Christmas dress.  However,  it is Thanksgiving season and as my heart turns to all things turkey, pumpkin, and cranberry, what is more appropriate than a case about the rarely-cited farm exclusion of 19 Del. Code Section 2307(b)?

This is one of those cases that really tickled me.  Yes, I know they all do-but I often read the Board's decision and have this "what were they thinking?" reflection about one side or the other.  Usually it is the losing side, but not always.  Anyway, this particular case left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling that both sides tendered a good faith, plausible argument.

Case du jour is David Lowe v. Vincent Farms, IAB# 1373141 (10/31/11)(ORDER).  The claimant was alleged by the employer to be a "farm laborer" subject to the comp exclusion of Section 2307(b).  The claimant acknowledged that he had a background in farming and worked as part of the Vincent Farms labor force, in the off-season preparing farm equipment.  Claimant did his job along with a large cadre of migrant workers but did not harvest the crops with them.  His job duties included working on the irrigation system, operating the combine, harvesting crops [but apparently not with the migrant workers!], and operating and maintaining the farm equipment.  It seemed claimant was the "go-to" guy for all farm equipment repairs.  He also worked on the personal vehicles of the Vincent Family.  In his estimation he spent about 85% of his efforts performing mechanic duties, 3% making hydraulic hoses, and 12% doing farm work.  The work injury was sustained while claimant was trying to drain the irrigation system.

The treasurer of Vincent Farms testified that the irrigation business is separate from the farm business and is a very small part of their operation.  Mr. Vincent agreed with claimant's description of his job duties.  As Hearing Officer Julie Bucklin stated in the Board's decision: "The dispute involves the interpretation of Claimant's job duties, wherein Claimant argues that he is a mechanic who happens to work on a farm and Vincent Farms argues that Claimant is a farm laborer who works on the farm and on the farm equipment."

I could almost have seen this one going either way, which is what makes it a delightful piece of litigation.  The other really cool thing about this case is that there is a discussion of what may be the only other two cases that ever considered the farm exclusion, at least at the Superior Court level, those cases being Bohemia Hall v. Sturgill and Stafford v. Irish Hunt Farms.  I represented Suzi Stafford in the latter case.

Anyway, the Board found that today's Claimant was a farm laborer.  Unlike those who will present to my Thanksgiving table, he came up empty-handed....... And apparently his joyful abundance will have to take a form other than TTD benefits.

Read the attached case to find out how they distinguished these facts from Bohemia Hall and Irish Hunt Farms.   I promise you will be enlightened the next time a farm worker shows up on your doorstep.

And to one and all, a Happy Thanksgiving! I will be off next week, too busy cooking up a storm for a hungry extended family.  Therefore no posts, but send me your case law and we will have a blog-fest the week after.....:>)

Irreverently yours,
Cassandra Roberts

Delaware Detour & Frolic   Visit Delaware Detour & Frolic, a law blog by Cassandra Roberts

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