The Supreme Court of Ohio in Friebel v. Visiting Nurse Association of Mid-Ohio recently determined that an employee who was injured in a car accident while dropping passengers off at a mall on the way to perform her work duties could not use the doctrine of dual intent or dual purpose in support of her request for workers’ compensation benefits.
Home health nurse Tamara Friebel was employed by Visiting Nurse Association of Mid-Ohio (“VNA”) to travel to client’s homes and provide in-home health care services. While working, she was primarily in client’s homes, and not at VNA’s offices, but sometimes she went to the offices to pick up supplies or attend meetings. During the week, VNA paid Freibel for travel time and mileage, but subtracted 24 miles from the mileage and 30 minutes from the travel time each day to account for the time and distance it would take Friebel to travel to and from her home and VNA’s offices, even when she never presented to the offices. On weekends, VNA paid Freibel for travel time and mileage and did not make any deductions.
On Saturday, January 22, 2011, Friebel was scheduled to work at a patient’s home in Ontario, Ohio. On the way to her patient’s home, Friebel chose to take her daughter, her son and two family friends to the Richland Mall in Ontario. Prior to dropping anyone off at the mall, Friebel’s car was hit from behind. Subsequently, Friebel filed an application for a workers’ compensation claim for a neck injury sustained in the car accident.
Administratively, the Industrial Commission of Ohio allowed the claim, finding that because the employer had conceded that Friebel was paid mileage and for her travel time from her home to her patient’s home on the day of injury, that the injuries were sustained in the course and scope of employment. VNA appealed to the Richland County Court of Common Pleas and filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging Friebel was not in the course and scope of her employment at the time of the accident.
The trial court granted judgment in favor of VNA, concluding that Friebel’s action of transporting her children to the mall was a personal errand and that her injury did not arise out of her work duties and did not occur in the course of her employment. The court found that it was immaterial that Friebel was paid for travel time and mileage on the weekends because at the time of the accident, she was travelling to the mall, not to her patient’s home. Friebel appealed and the Fifth District Court of Appeals reversed. In a split decision, the Court of Appeals held that, as a matter of law, Friebel’s injury arose out of her work duties and occurred in the course of her employment. The Appellate Court found that Friebel had the dual intent to travel to her patient’s home and perform her work duties and drop her children off at the mall. Further, the court found that Friebel would not have been at the place of the accident had she not been performing her work duties because she was on route to her patient’s home when the accident occurred. VNA appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio.
In Ohio, an injury is compensable when the injury occurred in the course of and arising out of the injured worker’s employment. In general, for employees with a fixed place of employment, injuries sustained while traveling to and from their place of employment are not compensable.
In this case, the Supreme Court focused its analysis on whether the doctrine of dual intent or dual purpose is applicable when determining whether a request for a workers’ compensation claim is compensable. Other states have created this doctrine to permit a claim to be recognized when an employee is travelling for both business and personal purposes.
In New York, a court defined the test for determining when a travelling employee is acting in the course of his employment as: “[i]f the work of the employee creates the necessity for travel, he is in the course of his employment, though he is serving at the same time some purpose of his own. . . If, however, the work has had no part in creating the necessity for travel, if the journey would have gone forward though the business errand had dropped, and would have been cancelled upon the failure of its private purpose, though the business errand was undone, the travel is then personal and personal the risk.” In re Marks v. Gray, 251 N.Y. 90, 167 N.E. 181 (1929).
Here, the Supreme Court soundly rejected the dual intent or dual purpose doctrine and held the doctrine is not applicable in determining the compensability of a claim. Instead, the Supreme Court stated that the proper way to analyze a workers’ compensation claim in Ohio is to apply tests to determine whether the injury occurred ‘in the course of’ employment and ‘arose out of’ an employee’s work duties. Ultimately, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision and remanded the matter back to the trial court to determine whether Friebel was injured in the course and scope of her employment with VNA.
Potentially, this fact pattern was not an ideal set of facts for the Court to evaluate whether this doctrine should be applicable in Ohio. In other states, the doctrine applies when an employee was performing a personal task at the same time as a business task. For example, in the New York case, the employee was asked by his employer to perform a task in a different city only because the employee was already planning to travel to that city to meet his wife. In this case, if Friebel was going to meet a patient at the mall as well as drop her children off at the mall, the facts may have been more applicable to address this doctrine. As the Court was explicit in its conclusion that the doctrine is not applicable in Ohio and did not address the underlying facts in this particular case, it appears the Court’s approach to the doctrine will remain intact. However, it is likely another employee with a more applicable fact pattern may ask the Court to revisit this issue down the road. For now, employers will have a solid defense to any claim in which an injured employee alleges dual intent or dual purpose in pursuit of a workers’ compensation claim.