Barbara Bank v. Minn. Dep’t of Human Serv’s. et al.

Barbara Bank v. Minn. Dep’t of Human Serv’s. et al., No. WC19-6328 (W.C.C.A October 20, 2020)

The Employee was a physician employed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. She had to complete 50 hours of continuing medical education each year as a condition of her employment. To meet this requirement, she travelled to Nashville to attend a two-day seminar at the Nashville Hilton, where she stayed.

The Employee walked from her room to the elevator bank to attend the seminar on the main floor of the hotel, and when the elevator door opened, she pivoted to go to the entrance, and her shoe caught on the rug. She lost her balance, fell on her back, and suffered an injury which eventually required spinal fusion surgery. Her self-insured Employer denied liability.

The parties agreed that the Employee was a traveling Employee and in the course of her employment at the time of her injury. The dispute was whether her injury arose out of her employment. The compensation judge denied the claim, concluding that the Employee failed to show that her injury was the result of a hazard of the Employer’s premises and was not entitled to benefits under Dykoff.

On appeal, the employee argues that the compensation judge erred in concluding that the Dykhoff decision altered the arising out of standard historically applied in cases involving a traveling employee.

The W.C.C.A noted that a general rule applied by other courts is that traveling employees enjoy portal to portal coverage so long as the employee is engaged in a reasonable activity.  Voight, 306 N.W.2d at 137, 33 W.C.D. at 631.  A reasonable activity is an activity that “may normally be expected of a traveling employee as opposed to those which are clearly unanticipated, unforeseeable, and extraordinary.”  Id. at 138, 33 W.C.D. at 633.

Injuries suffered as a result of the risks inherent in reasonable activities engaged in by traveling employees, including sleeping in a hotel (Stansberry), crossing a road (Epp), dining (Snyder), and drinking (Voight), have been considered compensable.  The court found that certainly the Employee’s activities of pivoting and walking to gain entrance to a hotel elevator so as to attend a seminar must also be considered reasonable such that the requisite causal connection has been established.

The compensation judge’s decision was reversed as a matter of law and the case was remanded for an award of benefits to the employee.

Takeaway: Dykoff’s increased risk test does not apply to traveling Employees; traveling Employees need only show that their injuries occurred from a reasonable activity while in the course of employment