Although this might seem like a straightforward matter, the fact of what she was doing at the time of the incident muddied the legal waters.
According to The Associated Press, plaintiff was operating the tug at the airport, but was on her way to meet her mother, from whom she planned to get food because she’d forgotten to bring her wallet to work.
The 21-year-old was driving the tug (a machine used to tow luggage carts) when it tipped over. So severe were the injuries to her leg that it had to be amputated below the knee.
However, when she applied for workers’ compensation benefits, the company rejected the claim, arguing the woman was not acting in the course and scope of employment because she was on her way to a personal errand at the time of the incident.
One of plaintiff’s co-workers provided testimony on behalf of defendant employer airport, asserting plaintiff was driving the vehicle “entirely too fast” when it flipped over. It should be noted that worker negligence does not bar a plaintiff from receiving workers’ compensation benefits.
Plaintiff presented evidence supporting her assertion that she had permission to drive the work vehicle to pick up items she needed to complete her shift at work. Based on the “personal comfort doctrine,” which holds that an employee is still considered to be “at work” and therefore acting in the course and scope of employment if they make a momentary departure in order to fulfill some personal need, such as going to the restroom – or retrieving food, taking medication or fixing one’s makeup.
The appellate court judge ruled that this explanation was applicable in this situation, and therefore the woman was entitled to workers’ compensation.
The personal comfort doctrine is recognized by the courts in North Carolina.
One such case that tested this doctrine in this state was that of Mintz v. Verizon Wireless, weighed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in 2014. According to court records, plaintiff worked as a customer service representative for the mobile service carrier, and she often spent her mandated hour-long lunch break walking the first-floor halls of the office building. Her employer didn’t own the building, but they were the main tenant.
One day on a lunchtime walk, plaintiff was returning to her cubicle when she slipped and fell on a piece of ice. She suffered a knee injury. The primary question for the appellate court was whether this knee injury occurred in the course and scope of employment. Her employer argued the injury was not work-related because it occurred during an unpaid lunch break.
The appellate panel disagreed, citing the personal comfort doctrine. The court pointed out the injury occurred while worker was in the midst of a personal comfort activity. The court noted that the injury occurred on a site not open to the public and she would not have been exposed to this same risk outside her employment. In this way, the injury occurred in the course and scope of her employment, and she was awarded benefits.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Woman who lost leg in on-the-job accident can’t be denied worker’s comp, Pa. court says, March 7, 2017, By Matt Miller, PennLive.com
More Blog Entries:
N.C. Court of Appeals Accepts Workers’ Compensation Claimant’s “Reasonable Effort” for Employment, April 10, 2017, Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog