Johnson v. City of Albia
203 Iowa 1171 (1927)

Facts:

  • Plaintiff was an engineer in charge of a pumping plant.
  • On the morning of November 15, he put in his notice that he’d be quitting that evening.
  • At 7:15, he turned in his key and headed home.
  • The next day, he returned to the plant solely to pick up his tools.
  • Plaintiff’s replacement was having trouble with a pump and asked for assistance.
  • While trying to help, Plaintiff’s got caught in some gearing and lost his arm.
  • He then attempted to bring a worker’s comp claim.

History:

  • The Industrial Commissioner found that Johnson was a covered employee and awarded benefits.
  • The trial court affirmed.

Issues:
(1) Was the employee still within the scope of his employment at the time of the injury when he returned to get his tools?
(2) Is there evidence of such a custom among engineers that the outgoing engineer shall assist the incoming one as made the workman an employee at the time?

Holding:
No. Case reversed.

Reasoning:

  • At the time the injury occurred, Code Supplement of 1913 was in force, and section 2477m16, par. (b) read as follows:
    • “‘Workman’ is used synonymously with ‘employee’ and means any person who has entered into the employment of or works under contract of service express or implied or apprenticeship for an employer.”
  • Here, the court held that Plaintiff wasn’t within the coverage of the statute:
    • He came to the place of his employment for a purely personal reason, namely, to secure his tools that were located on the premises;
    • Helping the new employee was purely voluntary on his part;
    • His former employer wasn’t even aware that he came back; and
    • He surrendered his key.
  • As for custom, the court held that there was nothing to review in that regard since the Commissioner made no finding. Moreover, even if there was something to review, there was no custom that the employer either knew or should’ve known of. Nothing in the record.

Dissent:

  • In a dissent, it was argued that there was in fact a custom – “there was a general custom in that locality between engineers and their employers that upon the termination of the service of the employed engineer it was his duty to impart reasonable instruction and extend reasonable aid to his successor in the operation of the plant.”
  • Thus, he should’ve received benefits, as this impliedly became part of his employment contract.

Rule: One returning for purely personal reasons (e.g., picking up tools) after employment ceased and injured while voluntarily assisting an employee is precluded from workers’ compensation benefits.