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Court News Ohio

Third District Rules Injuries from Hotel Fall not Covered by Workers’ Comp

An injury suffered by an over-the-road car hauler when he slipped and fell in a hotel bathroom during an overnight stay required by his employer did not “arise out of his employment” and therefore was not  covered by state workers’ compensation insurance according to a September 4 decision of the Third District Court of Appeals.

In a 2-1 majority decision authored by Judge Vernon L. Preston, the court of appeals reversed rulings by the Ohio  Industrial Commission and the Union County Court of Common Pleas that had allowed  a workers’ compensation claim filed by car-carrier driver Gregory A. Woodard.  Woodard’s claim was based on a knee injury he suffered when he slipped and fell in the bathroom of a Lafayette, Ind. hotel room paid for by his employer, Cassens Transport Company, during off-duty hours.  Woodard was staying overnight in Lafayette at the direction of Cassens, in order to pick up a “backhaul” load of cars to return to his home terminal in Marysville, Ohio, the following day.

Cassens opposed Woodard’s workers’ compensation claim, arguing that his injury was not incurred in the course of performing his job duties and did not arise out of his employment, and therefore did not qualify for coverage under Ohio’s workers’ compensation laws.  A district hearing officer for the Industrial Commission approved Woodard’s application, finding that his injury arose from his employment. That decision was affirmed on review by a commission staff hearing officer.  Cassens exercised its right to appeal the Industrial Commission’s ruling to the Union  County Court of Common Pleas, which also affirmed the award of benefits. Cassens then appealed the trial court’s decision to the Third District.

Writing for the court of appeals majority, Judge Preston cited prior decisions from the Ninth and Tenth appellate districts holding that an over-the-road truck driver’s slip and fall accident in a hotel bathroom did not “arise out of” the driver’s employment and therefore did not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. 

While acknowledging that other court decisions have recognized a right to workers’ compensation coverage for employees injured during work-related travel required by their employers, Judge Preston noted that coverage has not been extended to injuries incurred during a traveling employee’s conduct of “personal business” disconnected from his or her employment.  He wrote: “(W)e fail to see how the act of using a restroom in the middle of the night is anything but a ‘personal mission’ ‘disconnected with the employment,’ similar to taking a shower or walking to get something to eat.”  Judge Preston’s opinion was joined by Judge John R. Willamowski.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Stephen R. Shaw wrote that because Woodard’s overnight stay in Indiana was mandated and paid for by his employer, and advanced Cassens’ business interests by making Woodard and his truck available to transport a backhaul load of cars to Marysville the following day, he would hold that all of Woodard’s activities during his overnight stay other than running a personal errand were “in the course of and arising from his employment,” and therefore covered by workers’ compensation.

Woodard v. Cassens, 2012-Ohio-4015
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/3/2012/2012-ohio-4015.pdf
Civil Appeal From: Union County Common Pleas Court
Judgment Appealed From Is: Reversed and Remanded
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: September 4, 2012

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