Post-happy-hour injuries not compensablePosted On: Jul. 19, 2019 2:00 PM CST
The injuries sustained by a traveling salesman from his post-happy-hour car accident are not compensable, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held Thursday in a 5-2 decision.
In Peters v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board, the majority found that the salesman had abandoned his employment by driving past his house on his way to the happy hour with colleagues at a Tilted Kilt, and that his injuries did not occur in the scope and course of his employment.
Jonathan Peters worked as a uniform sales representative for Cincinnati-based Cintas Corp. As part of his job, he was on the road, but also worked from home and at the company’s Allentown branch. On Feb. 27, 2015, after working a full day in a northern part of his territory, he drove to Allentown to attend a happy hour with co-workers at the Tilted Kilt, a few exits past the exit to his house. While driving home, Mr. Peters was involved in a car accident and sustained multiple injuries.
He sought partial and total disability benefits stemming from the crash, and a workers compensation judge dismissed his petition, holding that he failed to show that he was in the course and scope of employment at the time of his accident. He appealed, but the Workers Compensation Appeals Board affirmed the judge’s decision.
Mr. Peters appealed to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, which affirmed the decision.
Although Mr. Peters argued that he was traveling home from a work-sponsored event in a work van, and that as a traveling employee, his accident should be compensable, the court disagreed, holding that in this case, Mr. Peters left his work vicinity, passed his home, attended a happy hour and was then involved in an accident on his way home, and that his “homeward trip” ended before he traveled to the Tilted Kilt.
“Under the circumstances, (Mr. Peters’) travel from the Tilted Kilt to his home cannot be considered in the course and scope of his employment,” the court said.
The court also dismissed Mr. Peters’ claims that because the gathering at the Tilted Kilt was a work-sponsored event, he remained in the course and scope of his employment by traveling to and from the event. But the court noted that the workers compensation judge found that the gathering was not in furthering the interest of the employer, but rather was a social gathering, and upheld the board’s decision.
Dissenting Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer, joined by Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt, said in her dissenting opinion that once a traveling employee sets off on the employer’s business, there “is a presumption that the employee is furthering the employer's interest” and that she could not conclude that “in attending this employer-sponsored social event, (Mr. Peters’) actions were so foreign to and removed from his usual employment that they constitute an abandonment of that employment.”
The dissenting judges’ noted that Mr. Peters attended the social event at the Tilted Kilt immediately following his last sales appointment, that the employer paid for the appetizers and drinks, and that the company held similar events on other locations.
“The (workers compensation judge’s) finding that claimant was not required to attend the event does not remove (Mr. Peters) from the realm of a traveling employee,” said Judge Jubelirer. “I would conclude that claimant's actions did not constitute abandonment of his employment.”
Attorneys in the case did not immediately respond to requests for comment.