6:29 pm - Sunday February 26, 2017

Property Managers Fatality Highlights Traveling Employee Exposure

Case: Bruce Houck, Individually and as the Representative for the Estate of Ellen Houck, Deceased vs. Tarragon Management and AIG Claims Services, Inc. No. 1D08-0081 (Fla. 1st Dist. Ct. App. 02/24/09)

Date of Accident: September 8, 2002

Background: Ellen was employed as a property manager in Jacksonville, Florida. Mr. Michael Cecala was a fellow property manager employed by the same company in their North Miami office. Ellen had trained Mr. Cecala, and he requested additional training from Ellen, which the employer approved. The training was to commence on Monday morning, September 9, 2002, and expected to last the entire week. Because Ellen had a friend in Ft. Lauderdale, she made arrangements to fly there on Saturday before her training assignment. The two friends planned to pass the weekend in purely leisure activities.

Ellen’s supervisor explained that employees required to travel for company business could fly to their business destination early, as the employer had to pay for the round trip ticket in any event. Employees were told that they were on their own during the days before the business activity started, and the employer did not reimburse any expenses incurred by the employees for those days.

For personal reasons, Ellen’s friend could not meet her in Ft. Lauderdale. Consequently, Mr. Cecala met Ellen at the airport, and drove her to an Employer owned condominium where Ellen planned to stay for the week. Mr. Cecala then drove Ellen to a restaurant for dinner, during which they discussed business and non business topics. After dinner they went window shopping near the beach, during which time they did not discuss business. Ellen wanted to go dancing, and Mr. Cecala agreed. They drove to a night club, parking across the street. At about 2:00 a.m. she was attempting to cross the street, Ellen was struck by a car suffering fatal injury.

Is This Claim Compensable?

Ellen’s family sought payment of death benefits and funeral expenses, asserting that Ellen was a traveling employee at the time of her death. The JCC (Worker Comp Court) denied the benefits finding that she was not in the course and scope of her employment when the accident happened. The further asserted that Ellen was not a traveling employee pusuant to FS 440.092(4).

The Appelate Court Ruling:

Ellen, although on a trip, was not a “travelling employee” when the accident occurred. For purely personal reasons, Ellen decided to fly to Ft. Lauderdale on the Saturday before her business responsibilities. She planned early travel in order to spend Saturday night and all day Sunday, engaged in purely leisure activities with a friend.

The court noted that unlike a flight attendant obligated to remain away from home in between assignments, Ellen’s presence in Ft. Lauderdale at the time of the accident was purely voluntary. The fact that she engaged in business discussions over dinner did not alter her status. Ellen did not fall into the category of a traveling employee, because the employer had no requirements for her to be in Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday.

The court added, that although Ellen was not a traveling employee at the time of her accident she could have been afforded workers compensation benefits if she had been in the course and scope of her employment at the time of her death. In this case Ellen, was in the course and scope of her employment when she traveled from the airport to the employer owned condominium and perhaps during the dinner and discussion over dinner. However, the connection to her employment was broken when she and Mr. Cecala went window shopping and subsequent traveled to the night club did not restore her employment connection.

Conclusion: Death benefits were denied because Ellen was not in the course and scope of her employment nor was she considered a traveling employee.

Very interesting case.

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