Peering Into the Judicial Lens of Workers' Compensation Claims

Sarasota, FL (CompNewsNetwork) - You've heard the rule cited many times that for a worker's injury to be compensable, the injury must "arise out of and in the course of employment." Sounds simple enough, but it is inherently vague in its meaning and can be interpreted differently depending on how a particular judge views the case and which corner of the legal universe his state of mind was in at the moment.
Peering into the judicial lens reveals many nebulous areas in the rule's phrasing, which make this one of the most semantically difficult rules to translate into plain English. And a difficult decision at times for a jury of your peers.

The words "arising" and "in the course of" must both be satisfied without a reasonable doubt. Ohio, in particular, uses the words "scope" and "zone" of employment in its decisions to zoom in on the rule's meaning and intent.
If you get injured at the place of your employment while doing the work you were hired to do you will probably be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. But there are many situations and circumstances that have made for some very controversial and strange opinions. Here are a few of the more interesting recent cases from the library of court opinions at

Beverly A. Taylor v. Meijer, Inc, Ohio Court of Appeals, #23018, 2009.
Taylor worked as a cashier at Meijer. After she finished her shift, she clocked out and then shopped for about ten minutes in a couple of aisles to purchase some groceries. Taylor received an employee discount when she shopped at the store. Taylor then proceeded to her car, carrying two plastic bags containing the items she had purchased. Taylor fell on ice near her car and suffered injuries. Meijer argued that Taylor had not been injured in the "course and scope" of her employment because she had left her work station, clocked out, and shopped for personal items, and she was loading those personal items into her car when she fell. Meijer claimed that Taylor's personal shopping and her act of loading groceries into her car removed her from the "course and scope" of her employment. The trial court denied Meijer's motion for summary judgment on the basis that Taylor had been "within the ‘zone of employment'" when the injury occurred. The court concluded that Taylor's shopping, while clocked out but still in her place of employment, did not disqualify her claim because she had not yet left the employer's premises. She would have had to return to her car anyway, even if she had not gone shopping. The car was in the employer's parking lot.

Antoinette Falls v. Union Drilling, Supreme Court Of Appeals West Virginia, #33907, 2008.
The central issue we are called upon to decide here is whether the immunity provisions of West Virginia Code §23_2-6 immunize employers and co-employees from common law liability for death or injury that occurs where an employee is killed on a public highway while riding in a vehicle driven by another employee who falls asleep at the wheel after both employees have left the employer's premises after working a double shift. Appellant argues that she should be entitled to pursue a common law wrongful death claim against the Appellees because the
decedent was killed after leaving Union's work premises after his shift ended, his death did not result from or occur in the course of employment. An injury, resulting in death, received by an employee while traveling upon a public highway in the same manner and for like purposes as the general public travels such highway, and not in
performance of his duties for his employer, is not an injury received in the course of employment within the meaning of the Workmen's Compensation Act and is, therefore, not compensable.

Pablo Martinez v . D. L. Cullifer & Son, Inc., Supreme Court of Florida, #75,663, 1990.
Pablo Martinez and Mario Navarro, who were employed by D. L. Cullifer & Son, Inc., as fruit pickers, went to a grove one evening to retrieve an empty fruit tub that had been left behind the previous day. Unable to locate the tub, the men returned to the highway where they had parked. As they walked along the highway to the truck, they were asked by two "Americans" to help push a disabled vehicle from the highway. The respondents were injured when they were struck by an automobile while assisting in pushing the vehicle. The question presented in this case is whether the claimants' actions were a deviation from their employment precluding compensation. The court cited the "positional risk doctrine." The claimants were entitled to benefits because the very nature of their employment brought them to the scene of a "true emergency,'' requiring a rescue attempt under "ordinary standards of humanity."

Tamara A. Hirschle v. William E. Mabe, Ohio Court of Appeals, #22954, 2009.
Is an injury suffered on an employer's premises "received in the course of, and arising out of" employment when the employee is voluntarily on the premises solely to pick up a paycheck, an activity that the employer's pay policy expressly permits but does not require? While walking back to her car after picking up her check, Ms. Hirschle slipped and fell near her car in the parking lot and broke her hip. The Industrial Commission denied her right to workers' compensation. She appealed to the trial court. Because she was not there to perform her work duties, the question is whether Ms. Hirschle's act of walking to her car after picking up her paycheck was consistent with her employment contract and logically related to her employment. Receipt of wages is fundamental to the employment relationship, the court said. That she had other ways to receive her wages is not significant. The employer allowed her the choice to fulfill its duty by picking up her paycheck on premises. An injury suffered in the employer's parking lot after the employer finishes performing its duty was found to to be compensable.

American Protection Ins. v. Liana Leordeanu, 3rd Court of Appeals, Texas, #03-06-00529-CV, 2009.
A different situation is presented when an employee is engaged in travel that has both personal and business-related purposes. The "dual purpose rule" is designed to address whether an employee is in the course and scope of employment for the purpose of coverage when injury occurs during travel that is for both personal and business purposes. Liana Leordeanu worked for Schering Plough as a pharmaceutical sales representative. Her job duties required that she spend a significant portion of her time traveling to pharmacies and doctors' offices within a designated area. Schering Plough provided Leordeanu with a car and with a storage unit for storing drug samples and marketing materials. From time to time as part of her job, Leordeanu would entertain doctors and their staff at local restaurants and pay for their drinks and food. Leordeanu met with a doctor and members of his staff for dinner at a restaurant in south Austin. After dinner and on her way home from the restaurant, Leordeanu was involved in a single car accident and sustained serious injury. American Protection, the workers' compensation carrier for Schering Plough, denied Leordeanu's claim.

When travel is dual purpose, the dual purpose rule requires the court to determine the answers to two questions:

(1) would the travel during which the claimant was injured have occurred even if there were no personal purpose; and
(2) would the travel not have occurred if there were no business purpose. (underlines are writer's comments)

If the answer to either of these questions is "no," then the employee is not deemed to be in the course and scope of employment. If the answers to both questions are "yes," the employee is deemed to be in the course and scope of employment and the injury is potentially compensable. The statute does not allow a court to approach the analysis of compensability of dual purpose travel in any other way. Leordeanu concedes that she was going home whether or not she dropped items off at the storage unit. Therefore, on this record, the answer to the second question is "no," and it precludes a finding that Leordeanu was in the course and scope of her employment at the time of her injury.

"Yes, we have no bananas!" Does this mean that we have them, or not? No. If we had said, instead, "no, we have no bananas" does this mean we do have bananas? Yes!

I rest my case.

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