January 12, 2010

To and a Meandering Fro

Richard Selest worked for the state of Wyoming Department of Transportation. He was asked to attend a training session 100 miles away from his office. Given the nice June weather, Richard, his supervisor and a co-worker decided to ride their motorcycles. (This surely would not have been an option in January!) On the way back to the home office, they discussed taking a scenic route, but no final decision was made. When they arrived at the intersection for the scenic road, the supervisor, riding in front, turned off. Richard and the co-worker followed. In the course of the ride, Richard lost control of his motorcycle and suffered serious injuries. Compensable under comp?

Richard's claim was initially denied on the theory that the scenic route - 50 miles longer - was a deviation from the road back to the office and thus not compensable. Richard countered that his supervisor approved the deviation and that he was not on any specific "personal errand." He merely was going back to his office, albeit in a meandering fashion.

The case, like the scenic road, wended up to the Wyoming Supreme Court, where Richard once again lost. The court found that the choice of a scenic road was purely personal and a clear deviation from the "course and scope" of employment. Even though Richard had no specific goal in taking the longer road, and even though he was in fact heading back to the office, the deviation in route was substantial, thus taking him outside of comp's protective umbrella.

One justice dissented, but I think the majority acted appropriately. Despite the fact that Richard was paid for the entire trip (which took one hour longer than the direct road) and despite the fact that he followed his supervisor's lead, the deviation had nothing whatsoever to do with work. As all good claims adjusters know, this is a matter of reading a map: the presumptive route to the office is a (relatively) straight line. Richard and his co-workers were seduced by the curvy call of nature, for which poor Richard has had to pay a very steep price.



I disagree. I believe that the supervisor in the lead position, chose the route to the office, Richard and the co-worker just followed suit. It was a reasonable expectation for an employee to make and not break ranks but follow the supervisory lead.


Just change the circumstances slightly. They are in the supervisors car. They get to the turnoff and Richard's supervisor is driving in the supervisors car. The supervisor without further ado takes the scenic route and the crash happens is it compensable?

Richard did not have a choice in the route. There is no real difference between the two cases. Richard followed his supervisors lead rather than going straight and leaving the supervisor on his own. Imagine if the accident happened to the supervisor and Richard had not followed his lead on the scenic route. Do you think he would have still had his job?

The court was thinking like employers not employees. Employees tend to do what they are told directly or indirectly if they want to keep their jobs.


I totally disagree as well. I am surprised that you think the justices acted appropriately. If the accident had happened to the supervisor I may have agreed, because it was his decision to take the other route; but in this case I don't think many people would imagine themselves not following their supervisor if they hadn't verbally agreed on a route beforehand. So many cases in comp are decided by what 'may' realistically happen in an open market (employability etc.), so why not this one? This employee would surely have faced either an extremely awkward situation or even disciplinary action for not following his supervisor - I don't know anyone who wouldn't have felt compelled to follow their boss in that situation, despite the route being scenic or out of the way.


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This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on January 12, 2010 11:37 AM.

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