Golfing is a year-round recreation in Florida, and many businesses take advantage of it to gather staff and customers for retreats, sales outings and other events. However, when golf cart accidents occur in the course of such an event, can an employee claim workers’ compensation? Should he file litigation instead? Can a worker collect both?
Our Fort Myers workers’ compensation lawyers know the answer depends on a multitude of factors, specifically focused on whether the event leading to the injury was indeed work-related.
In the recent case of Curtis v. Lemna, the Arkansas Supreme Court held that an employee who suffered injuries when a co-worker drove a golf cart over a retaining wall during a work sales function that the event was covered under the exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation. Therefore, his third-party lawsuit against the co-worker was dismissed.
That means he is free to continue collection of workers’ compensation benefits for his injuries, but he won’t be able to pursue personal injury litigation directly against his allegedly negligent co-worker.
According to court records, both plaintiff and defendant were employed at a large corporation headquartered in Arizona when they attended a sales meeting held at an Arkansas golf course, where a couple of their largest clients were based. The two attended the sales meeting with the client before heading out to the links, with defendant driving the cart. Defendant accidentally drove the vehicle over a retaining wall, and both were ejected from the cart.
Plaintiff suffered a shoulder injury in the crash. Plaintiff then filed for workers’ compensation benefits in Arizona, which he received. Later, plaintiff filed a personal injury action against defendant, asserting his negligence proximately caused injury.
Defendant responded with a motion to dismiss, asserting the two were co-employees at the time of the accident, and the Arkansas state workers’ compensation commission had exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether he was entitled to immunity from the tort action. The trial court agreed, dismissing the case without prejudice (meaning plaintiff could re-file if the commission determined a tort action was allowable).
Plaintiff sought determination from the Arkansas workers’ compensation commission, not for benefits (as he was already receiving those) but as to whether his co-worker was entitled to tort immunity. Such immunity would be granted if the pair were acting within the scope of employment at the time of the accident.
The commission determined the two were acting within the scope of employment at the time of the golf cart accident, and therefore, the defendant co-worker was entitled to immunity. That decision was upheld by the full commission and again affirmed by the court of appeals.
Plaintiff appealed again to the state supreme court. He alleged commission lacked jurisdiction over the issue, because he wasn’t seeking benefits, and even if it had jurisdiction, the evidence to support the conclusion was lacking. He further asserted his co-worker was a third party under state worker’s compensation law, and therefore was not entitled to immunity.
The state supreme court disagreed. The court noted first that plaintiff sought relief from the commission, and when he did not prevail, argued the jurisdiction wasn’t proper. However, the court ruled the commission did have subject matter jurisdiction in this case.
Secondly, the court found the pair were acting within the scope of employment at the time of the crash. The test for this determination is whether the injury occurred within time and space boundaries of employment, when the worker was carrying out the company’s purpose or advancing the company’s interests, directly or indirectly. Here, while the sales meeting was required, the golf outing was not.
However, almost all who came to the sales meeting attended the golf outing, which was intended as a team-building exercise. The company paid for all expenses related to the outing, which was inherently beneficial to the company. Immunity to co-employees is extended under Arkansas law when the actions arise from the alleged failure of that co-worker to provide a safe workplace.
Here, the co-worker drove the golf cart for the purpose of the men to participate in the team-building exercise, and therefore, the court held, the golf cart was considered a “work vehicle” and the duty held by the co-worker was to provide safe transportation on behalf of the employer. Therefore, he was immune from the tort action.
This case shows there is sometimes a fine line with regard to liability in work-related claims. It’s important to consult with an experienced work injury attorney before pressing forward with a claim.
If you have been injured at work in Fort Myers, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Curtis v. Lemna, Sept. 18, 2014, Arkansas Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Arvizu v. Heights Roofing Inc. – Culpable Negligence in Workplace Injuries, Sept. 16, 2014, Fort Myers Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog