Dual Purpose Doctrine Does Not Apply

Dual Purpose Doctrine Does Not Apply

Posted: November, 2014

Friebel v. Visiting Nurse Assn. of Mid-Ohio, ___ Ohio St.3d ___, 2014-Ohio-4531 (10/21/14).

Issue: Did a Court of Appeals properly determine that an injury to an employee traveling back to work from a lunch break occurred in the course of, and arising out of, her employment?

Background: Friebel worked as a home health nurse. Her job typically required her to drive to patients’ homes. Sometimes she would stop at her employer’s office to pick up mail or supplies, or to attend meetings.

On weekends the employer paid for all of her time and mileage; on weekdays the employer subtracted time and milage from the amount it paid to represent the time and milage it would have taken her to travel from her home to the employer’s office (even if she did not actually travel to the employer’s office on that day).

One Saturday, Friebel had to go to the home of a patient. On her way to the patient’s home (which was her first stop of the day), she took several family members and friends to a mall. While stopped at a light before arriving at the mall, another car hit her car and she was injured. Friebel filed a workers’ compensation claim.

After her claim was allowed administratively, the employer appealed to court. The trial court found in the employer’s favor, but the Court of Appeals reversed and found in favor of Friebel. The employer appealed.

Decision: Supreme Court reverses.

R.C. 4123.01(C) requires a worker to demonstrate that their injury occurred both “in the course of, and arising out of” their employment to receive workers’ compensation for their injury. [The “course/arising test.”]

Determining whether an injury to a traveling worker satisfies the course/arising test depends on the nature of the employment. Some employees regularly travel as part of their employment, some work in a fixed location (referred to as a “fixed situs”).

If an employee travels as a regular part of their employment, an injury “during an employment-related trip” generally qualifies for workers’ compensation coverage, “unless the injury occurred while the employee was on a personal errand.” However, when an employee who works at a fixed location suffers an injury while traveling to that location, “the general rule is that the requisite causal connection is absent.”

The rule barring fixed situs employees from receiving workers’ compensation benefits for injuries while traveling to their place of employment is referred to as the going and coming rule. There are exceptions to the going and coming rule which may permit an employee injured while traveling to their fixed situs to receive workers’ compensation for their injury.

In some jurisdictions, the “dual purpose doctrine” is used to determine whether a worker injured during travel for both personal and business reasons can receive workers’ compensation benefits for their injury. The Supreme Court’s majority indicates that this doctrine was applied by the Court of Appeals in its decision. The Supreme Court rejects the dual purpose doctrine.

According to the Supreme Court, determining whether Ohio law permits an injured worker to participate for an injury while traveling depends on the course/arising test, not the employee’s purpose. The Court states “[e]ven when work creates the necessity for travel and the travel includes a personal purpose, workers’ compensation benefits are available only for an injury that occurs in the course of and arising out of the employment.”

Editor’s Comment: The dissenting opinion in this case rejects the majority’s belief that the Court of Appeals relied on the dual purpose doctrine in its decision. According to the dissent,

It is very clear that the Fifth District did not base its decision on the doctrine of dual intent, and it is wrong to suggest otherwise.

* * *

The appellate opinion mentions dual intent only two times in the entire opinion, and neither time is the court applying the dual-intent doctrine. . . . [T]wo oblique references in one paragraph of the entire 34-paragraph appellate opinion clearly demonstrate that the court of appeals was relying on established law rather than plowing new ground. Significantly, the appellate opinion, relying on established precedent from this court in the area of workers’ compensation, devotes ¶ 15 through 31 to explaining why the trial court erred as a matter of law when it granted summary judgment in favor of the employer. And in so doing, the court properly relied on applicable statutes and binding precedent from this court.

Information courtesy of the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Bulletin. Subscribe to the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Bulletin to keep informed about the Ohio workers’ compensation system.