Posts Tagged ‘workers compensation compensability’

Compensability: deviation from employment and “personal comfort” doctrine

Thursday, October 14th, 2004

Recently, Florida appellate courts issued rulings on two cases on issues related to deviation from employment and personal comfort. Essentially, these are nooks and crannies having to do with the issue of compensability. Injuries are compensable if they arise out of and in the course of employment. Sounds simple? Not so: Thousands of court challenges have occurred interpreting those few seemingly simple words. Is a worker covered while driving home from work? Is a worker covered while they take a break or go to lunch? Is a worker covered while running a personal errand during a business trip? Is a worker covered when injured at the company picnic? The answer to all these questions would be “maybe.” Specific circumstances would dictate a yes or a no.

In the first Florida case, Galaida v. Autozone, Inc. 29 Fla. L. Weekly D2160d (Fla. 1st DCA Sept. 27, 2004), a worker was denied benefits for an injury sustained while on a smoke break in the company parking lot. Autozone allows employees to take smoke breaks, and the employee went to his car to get his cigarettes. When he opened the car door, his gun fell out of the car, discharged, and shot him in the foot. The claim for the resulting injury was denied not because it occurred during a break – that is an acceptable deviation for personal comfort – but because the employer had a policy against possessing firearms on company premises, and therefore, this incident was deemed a serious deviation from the course of employment.The employee subsequently appealed the denial based on the doctrine of “personal comfort.” The Appeals court upheld the denial, stating that:

The personal comfort doctrine incorporates a foreseeability element to the cause of injury. Thus, in Holly Hill Fruit Products 473 So. 2d 829, 830-1 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985), an employee who was injured while crossing a street to purchase cigarettes was held to have sustained a compensable injury because the ‘trip was a foreseeable and non-prohibited refreshment break activity, and employer’s authority over claimant was not significantly dissipated during the course of the trip.’ Similarly, in B & B Cash Grocery Stores v. Wortman, 431 So. 2d 171, 174 (Fla. 1st DCA 1983), an employee injured while attending to his personal comfort by washing off in a river was held to have sustained a compensable injury because ‘diving into the Alafia River was a momentary deviation without obvious danger, was impliedly tolerated, and was reasonably foreseeable.’

Being exposed to a firearm, however, is not a foreseeable consequence of an authorized cigarette break, especially when the possession of a firearm is strictly prohibited by the employer.