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Traveling worker's car accident not compensable

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A man who died from injuries he sustained in a car accident while out of town on business was not within the course and scope of his employment, a Texas appeals court has ruled.

Ron Pinkus, who worked as a product development team leader for JVL Ventures L.L.C., was sent from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Dallas for three days to meet with customers and plan for the opening of a Dallas office, court records show. All of his transportation, meals and lodging expenses for the trip were paid for by JVL Ventures.

Mr. Pinkus had plans to meet his son, who lived in Dallas, for dinner after work on Jan. 9, 2012, according to records. On his way to the restaurant about 6:45 p.m., Mr. Pinkus was injured in an automobile accident. He was rendered quadriplegic and died as a result of his injuries on Aug. 1, 2012, records show.

His wife Barbara Pinkus filed a beneficiary claim for workers comp benefits with the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers' Compensation, according to records. She argued that because Mr. Pinkus had traveled to Dallas for business, “the 'continuous coverage' rule applied and (he) was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of his injury.”

A hearing officer with the division determined that Mr. Pinkus was in the course and scope of his employment when he was injured, and the division appeals panel affirmed, according to records.

JVL Ventures' workers comp insurer, Hartford Casualty Insurance Co., filed a petition for judicial review in the Collin County, Texas, 199th Judicial District Court, records show. The district court granted Hartford's motion for summary judgment, leading Mrs. Pinkus to appeal.

Texas' 5th District Court of Appeals on Thursday affirmed the district court's decision, ruling that Mr. Pinkus was not in the course and scope of his employment when he was injured in an automobile accident.

Under the continuous coverage rule, “an employee whose work entails travel away from the employer's premises (is) in the course of his employment when the injury has its origin in a risk created by the necessity of sleeping or eating away from home, except when a distinct departure on a personal errand is shown,” according to the appellate court's ruling.

Mr. Pinkus' Dallas business trip “merely placed him in a position to take advantage of an opportunity for a 'distinct departure on a personal errand,'” the ruling states.