Miss. high court: Prisoner can get workers' comp

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A former utility worker who lost his hands when he was shocked by power lines can receive workers' compensation, even though officials argued he tried to hurt himself to avoid a homicide investigation, the Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled.

Lonnie Smith pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the homicide case and is now serving a 12-year prison sentence. Smith, a former alderman in Ripley, Miss., was injured in April 2010 while working in a bucket-lift truck for the Tippah Electric Power Association.

In its 6-3 ruling Thursday, the Supreme Court ordered the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission to determine the benefits Smith should receive. The court's majority rejected the power association's claim that Smith intentionally grabbed the power lines to injure himself or commit suicide.

According to court records, no one could say they saw Smith grab the power lines in a deliberate manner. Smith said he got entangled in the wires after he dropped a knife in the bucket and reached down to get it.

A safety expert for Tippah testified the lines Smith allegedly grabbed were three feet, seven inches apart. The distance, the expert testified, would have made it difficult for Smith to accidentally touch both lines at the same time.

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