Injured on the Way to Breakfast? According to This Court, You’ve Got Yourself a Workers’ Compensation Claim

The first thing you need to figure out when deciding whether a workers’ compensation claim is compensable is whether the injury “arose out of” and whether it occurred “in the course and scope of” the injured worker’s employment.  As the title of this post suggests, according to one Ohio court, employees can be in the course and scope of their employment while driving to breakfast.

How do courts determine whether an injury was work-related?

The  boring legalese (if you think this blog contains too much of that please skip down to the next section) is as follows:  According to a test set forth by the Ohio Supreme Court in Lord v. Daugherty, you need to look at the following three factors determine if an employee’s injury arose out of his or her employment:

  1. The proximity of the scene of the accident to the place of employment;
  2. The degree of control the employer had over the scene of the accident; and
  3. The benefit the employer received from the injured employee’s presence at the scene of the accident.

To determine whether an injury occurred “in the course of” of employment, you look at the “time, place, and circumstances” of the injury.  Courts get the “arising out of” and “in the course of” issues garbled all the time.  In the courts’ defense, while the two seem separate and distinct, they are really just different ways of looking at the same thing: is this incident sufficiently related to the worker’s job that: 1) they should get workers’ compensation benefits; and 2) they should be barred from suing their employer for a personal injury?

I’m trying to keep this post straight forward, so I’m not going to go any further into the two tests today.  If you want to get deep into the weeds on this stuff, come and hear me speak in Akron on June 17th or Cleveland on June 20th.

This guy really filed a workers’ compensation claim for something that happened on the way to breakfast?

Yep, he sure did, and he won it!

In Stewart v. Bear’s Tire, Stewart owned two companies: Bear’s Tire, Inc. (a tire changing company with three employees); and “Larry Stewart, LLC.”, which owned and managed several apartment buildings.  Bear’s Tire had workers’ compensation coverage. Larry Steward, LLC did not.  One morning, Stewart arranged to have one of Bear’s employees meet him at a Bob Evans restaurant for breakfast.  On the way there, Stewart got into an accident with a driver who was on the wrong side of the road.  Stewart filed a claim with the BWC alleging that he was working for Bear’s Tire at the time of accident.

Stewart also sued the wrong way driver.  During a deposition, Stewart testified that he had been driving to meet the employee to take him to work at the apartments owned by Larry Stewart, LLC  (which didn’t have workers’ compensation coverage, remember?) because  business at Bear’s was slow. The Industrial Commission found Steward guilty of fraud, and ordered an overpayment of all the benefits that Steward had received from the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.  Stewart appealed that decision into court.

The court ruled that Steward was injured while working at Bear’s Tire (and as a result, was not guilty of fraud).  The court admitted that the first two Lord factors (proximity to the place of employment and degree of control over the scene of the accident) did not point to a work relationship. However, the court felt that the benefit Bear’s Tire received from Steward having breakfast at Bob Evans was sufficient to make this a work-related injury (pause here while I roll my eyes).

According to the court, it was important for Bear’s employees to make full-time wages in the winter months when Bear’s business was slow. The court also pointed to the cost of training new employees, and noted that Bear’s always paid for its employees’ work at the apartments. If you would like to read this (in my humble opinion) slightly far fetched decision, the cite is Stewart v. Bear’s Tire, 2019-Ohio-1832, 2019 Ohio App. LEXIS 1914 (May 13, 2019).

What does this mean for me?

If you’re a worker it means what your mother told you, “always eat your breakfast”.  If you’re a business owner it means make sure you have workers’ compensation coverage.  This business owner was inches away from being guilty of workers’ compensation fraud. If you’re an administrator of workers’ compensation claims (or, god forbid, a student of all things workers’ compensation related), it means that when an injury occurs off the company premises, don’t automatically toss the claim into the “deny” basket.

This week’s special thanks go to Thomas Robinson at the work comp writer for bringing this case to my attention.  If you would like a more detailed description of the case please check out his story here.

Lastly, the “shameless self promotion” plug.  Nominations for the WorkersCompensation.com “best blogs” competition closes on June 1st.  If you enjoy the blog (or even if you don’t-I’m not picky) please consider nominating it: Nominate Your Favorite Blog Here(If pop-ups are blocked by your browser, access the form here).

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