Injuries which occur outside the employer’s premises generally create challenges for the Commission and courts attempting to determine compensability. The workers’ compensation statute requires that injuries occur “in the course of” employment and “arise out of employment” to be compensable. When injuries occur outside the employer’s premises, compensability depends on such things as whether the employee was a fixed situs employee, whether special hazards apply, and whether the injury occurred in the “zone of employment.” Courts often resort to the nebulous “totality of the circumstances” test when all else fails. Ultimately, most courts concede that compensability under the above tests and circumstances largely depends on the specific facts of the case, making it very difficult to predict outcomes.
In Osten v. Bur. Of Workers’ Comp., 2017-Ohio-9315, the 2nd District Court of Appeals addressed the compensability of a claim alleged by a flight attendant, who was injured after going to dinner in a remote city after completing her flight. Administratively, the Commission determined that the claimant, a “traveling employee,” was on a personal errand when she sustained her injury and was not entitled to benefits. Pursuant to R.C. 4123.512, the claimant appealed to the common pleas court, which granted summary judgment in favor of the Bureau and the employer. Thereafter, the claimant appealed to the court of appeals.
The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment. While the court discussed the various exceptions, which may result in compensability, ultimately, the court based its decision on the fact that the claimant was a traveling employee running a personal errand. The court noted “for employees who travel regularly for work and who are injured away from the workplace during an employment-related trip, courts have generally held that the employee is entitled to benefits unless the injury occurred while the employee was on a personal errand.” The Court found that going to dinner constituted a personal errand. The claimant contended she was not on a personal errand because she received an hourly wage during travel, the employer mandated that she stay at a particular hotel, and her union contract required specific nutritional needs for flight crews, which dictated her choice of restaurants. Nevertheless, the court rejected these arguments, noting that the employer allowed its employees to choose where they wished to eat and the mere fact of traveling does not create a special situation allowing employees to be treated differently than others for purposes of workers’ compensation.