Paralyzed Victim Not On Employer’s Time, Workers Comp Benefits Denied
A state appeals court ruled that a North Carolina man cannot receive workers comp benefits for a car crash that occurred after he attended a lunch organized by his employer.
In 2010, John Graven Jr. worked for the North Carolina Highway Patrol as a technical support analyst. He and co-worker Kathryn Wall attended a lunch that the Highway Patrol organized “to celebrate the department’s hard work.” However, the lunch gathering was not required by the department, and less than half the organization’s employees attended the lunch. The organization also did not present any awards or speeches, and employees had to pay for their own food.
Graven and Wall took a state-owned vehicle to the lunch gathering, because it was further than walking distance for their regular 30 minute lunch break. However, the vehicle had been signed out by another employee, and the two did not have authorization to use the vehicle to attend the lunch gathering.
While they were returning to work, the vehicle slipped on a patch of ice and ran into a tree. Graven was paralyzed from the chest down, and Wall suffered a concussion. Because their injuries occurred in an employer-owned vehicle, and because they were attended an employer-organized lunch event, they both filed for workers comp benefits to cover their injuries. However, their request was denied.
A deputy commissioner reversed the workers comp decision, but the North Carolina Industrial Commission denied the workers comp benefits claims. Graven and Wall took their workers comp case to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which upheld the Industrial Commission’s stance.
“Though the holiday lunch was not provided at Defendant’s expense, Defendant did provide an occasion for the employees to participate in an outing which was a matter of good will in that, as the Commission determined, it was for the benefit of the employees and not defendant,” Judge Chris Dillon wrote.
Dillon added that the plaintiffs were not injured during the event or at the office, but on their return trip, despite the plaintiffs’ argument that their employers increased their risk of potential injury by hosting the event at a restaurant outside walking distance of their office.
“We believe, however, that the ‘increased risk’ analysis does not apply where an employee voluntarily attends a social event which, itself, does not arise out of his employment and is injured due to a risk that is common to the public while traveling on a public road to that event,” Dillon wrote.
The Strom Law Firm Can Help with Workers Comp Claims in South Carolina
The workers comp lawyers at The Strom Law Firm, LLC proudly seek justice on behalf of employees injured or killed on the job who work for private companies, as well as employees working for local county, city, and state government. We are licensed to practice throughout South Carolina, as well as Georgia and New York. If you are confused about worker’s comp laws, or have had your worker’s comp claim denied, contact us. We offer free consultations to discuss the facts of your case.803.252.4800.