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No benefits for widow of worker who fell from hotel room

Posted On: Oct. 6, 2020 2:18 PM CST

death benefits

The widow of a 3M worker who died after falling out of his hotel window is not entitled to workers compensation death benefits, an appellate court held Thursday.

In Riggs v. Old Republic Insurance Co., the Texas Court of Appeals, 11th District in Eastland, Texas, held that the employee was not in the course and scope of his employment when he died after a night of drinking.

Earnest Riggs worked for St. Paul, Minnesota-based 3M Corp., and traveled to Singapore in October 2012 to assist with the setup of a new facility. The company provided workers with hotel rooms and a shuttle service transporting them to and from the plant.

On the evening after his arrival, he met other workers at the hotel’s executive lounge and consumed drinks before a few of the group moved on and continued to drink elsewhere. He left to return to his hotel, and one employee said Mr. Riggs appeared “extremely intoxicated.” The next morning, he was found dead in a grassy area outside the hotel underneath the window of his sixth-floor room.

His wife, Penny Riggs, filed a claim for workers compensation death benefits. Old Republic Insurance Co. denied the claim on the basis that Mr. Riggs was intoxicated and that there was no evidence that he was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of his death. 

The Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers Compensation hearing officer ruled that Mr. Riggs’ injury death was not compensable because it occurred while he was intoxicated. His widow filed for judicial review, but a trial court granted summary judgment to the insurer. She appealed again, arguing that her husband’s business trip “originated in the business affairs of his employer” and that therefore his death should be compensable.

The appellate court affirmed the decision. Although Mr. Riggs was traveling at the behest of his employer, the court said, his widow failed to present any evidence that he was acting in the course and scope of his employment when he fell from his hotel window. She also argued that there was some evidence that he was not intoxicated, but the appellate court held that since she failed to produce evidence that he was performing work at the time of the incident, it did not need to address whether or not he was intoxicated when his fall occurred.