Ginger Wilson works as a librarian in Montgomery County, Virginia. One day she arrived at work, got out of her car and headed for the library entrance. Then she remembered that she had a hair appointment at noon, so she returned to the car and opened the door to fetch a bottle of shampoo. A gust of wind caught the door, which slammed against her. She fell, breaking her wrist.
Compensable under workers comp? Not likely, as the return to the car was a definitive deviation from her work routine - she had already exited the car and was headed toward the library. The fetching of shampoo was a personal errand, having nothing to do with work.
Ah, but this is Montgomery County, home of the $32 million comp problem. Ginger was awarded $5,500 in comp benefits, covering her medical costs and six weeks of lost time.
Associate County Attorney Susan Chagrin (who immediately earns a place on my All Name team for attorneys) has sued Ginger for repayment, asserting that the injury had nothing to do with employment. I'm with Chagrin, but to our mutual chagrin, the county is unlikely to prevail. There is nothing fraudulant in Ginger's filing a claim. She apparently was completely candid about the circumstances of the injury. The claim was accepted by the adjuster. Getting money back on this one is likely to be as difficult as the proverbial putting toothpaste back into the tube.
I have a few random questions for Montgomery County and for Ginger:
1. Why does a librarian with a broken wrist have to miss 6 weeks of work? Library work is about as light duty as it gets.
2. If Ginger returned to her car for the specific purpose of fetching the shampoo, why is she still in "the course and scope of employment"?
3. According to her testimony, Ginger planned to "eat my lunch while I was getting my hair done." Excuse me and with all due respect, that is a truly revolting example of multi-tasking.
4. Finally - admittedly a bit off point - why does Ginger have to provide her own shampoo for a hair appointment?
As is so often the case, the best opportunity for controlling the outcome of questionable claims is at the beginning. If compensability is in doubt, adjusters should take aggressive action at the outset. Given the particulars of Ginger's situation (at least as this article presents them), there was enough evidence to deny the claim when it was first filed. Once accepted as compensable, however, it's unlikely that the decision could be reversed. Ms. Chagrin, in all likelihood, will remain, well, chagrinned.