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Two state employees who sustained injuries — one of whom was paralyzed from the chest down — while driving back to work after a lunch hosted by their supervisor are not entitled to workers compensation benefits, the North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled.
John E. Graven Jr. and Kathryn L. Wall provided software training to state troopers and civilians around North Carolina as technical support analysts with the State Highway Patrol, a division of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, court records show.
In December 2010, Mr. Graven and Ms. Wall were invited by their supervisor to attend a voluntary employee lunch at a restaurant, which they drove to in a state-owned vehicle. Fewer than half of the employees who were invited to the lunch showed up, and attendees were required to pay for their own meals, though they were entitled to a group discount, records show.
On the way home, the state-owned vehicle Mr. Graven and Ms. Wall were riding in hit a patch of ice and struck a tree, leaving Mr. Graven paralyzed from the chest down and Ms. Wall with a concussion, cuts and bruises, according to records.
Records show that both plaintiffs filed workers comp claims, which were denied by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. During a hearing, the deputy commissioner of the North Carolina Industrial Commission concluded that the injuries were compensable, leading the Department of Public Safety to appeal to the commission.
In October 2013, the commission decided that Mr. Graven and Ms. Wall's injuries didn't occur within the course and scope of their employment, as they were not “traveling” to perform work for their employer but to attend a “social event,” and they were denied benefits, records show.
A State Highway Patrol employee testified that even though Mr. Graven and Ms. Wall were riding in a state-owned vehicle at the time of the crash, “it was not authorized for use to attend the holiday lunch and if the vehicle had been requested for the purpose of attending the holiday lunch that request would have been denied,” according to records.
Mr. Graven and Ms. Wall appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which on Tuesday affirmed the commission's decision to deny Mr. Graven and Ms. Wall workers comp benefits.
The plaintiffs were involved in an accident “caused by a risk that is common to the public occurring while they were traveling on a public road while returning to their workplace from that social event,” the ruling states.
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