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Friebel v. Visiting Nurse – Dual Intent Doctrine Struck Down in OH

On Behalf of | Nov 2, 2014 | On-the-job Car Accidents |

Workers are constantly forced to multitask, particularly when it comes to juggling their personal and professional lives. Unfortunately, trying to be efficient cost one home health care nurse in Ohio the right to collect workers’ compensation benefits, following a decision by the Ohio Supreme Court in Friebel v. Visiting Nurse Ass’n of Mid-Ohio.The court ruled against the “dual intent” doctrine, which would have allowed a worker running a personal errand while on his or her way to the next assignment to collect benefits for a crash that occurred at that time.

Although the decision doesn’t directly affect workers in Georgia, we can rest-assured courts will review this case when similar questions arise.

Our Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers know generally, crashes that occur going to and from work are not compensable, per the coming-and-going rule. However, in this case, we’re dealing with a person whose work required her to visit several locations throughout the day. Trips between job sites are considered “work-related” for the purposes of workers’ compensation.

The facts that give rise to the Friebel case began in 2006. Claimant was a nurse who traveled from one residence to another to care for patients in their home. Sometimes, she stopped at the office for supplies or to pick up mail or attend meetings, but was typically out of the office. On weekends, she was reimbursed for travel time and mileage expenses from her residence to each patient’s home and then also for her drive home. However, during weekdays, she was not reimbursed for travel time from home and back.

One Saturday morning in January, she had to travel from her home to that of a patient in the next city. She decided to take her daughter, a son and two family friends and drop them off at the mall on her way to her assignment.

Prior to dropping her passengers off, she was struck from behind by another vehicle while stopped at a red light. She filed for workers’ compensation for a neck sprain.

The courts struggled with the issue of whether the worker’s injury was compensable. First, the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation allowed her claim. Employer appealed, and a district hearing officer for the industrial commission vacated the previous allowance and denied the claim. He asserted she hadn’t yet started her work day.

Employee appealed, and the district hearing officer’s decision was vacated on the grounds travel was work-related because she was being paid for her travel time and mileage from home to the patient’s home.

The Industrial Commission denied employer further reconsideration or review, so employer appealed the decision to the district court. Trial court granted judgment in favor of employer, finding no dispute to the fact the worker was on a personal errand at the time she was injured (i.e., transported her children and others to the mall). The judge found it immaterial that she was paid for that time.

Worker appealed, and the appellate court, in a split decision, reversed the trial court, finding the injury compensable per the doctrine of dual intent. The court ruled although the worker intended to drop her passengers off (a personal errand), she had the dual intent to travel to work. At the time she was injured, she had not yet diverted from that path.

Employer then appealed the case to the state supreme court, which, again reversed, ultimately finding favor with employer. The court indicated Ohio does not recognize the doctrine of dual intent in workers’ compensation cases.

The doctrine grew out of a 1929 New York state decision, In re Marks v. Gray, which found that if the work of employee necessitates travel, he is in the course of employment, even if he is at the same time serving some purpose of his own.

Other states that have specifically adopted the doctrine include:

  • Nebraska
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • West Virginia
  • Nevada

That doesn’t mean other courts might not recognize it, but these are just the jurisdictions that expressly adopted it. However, Ohio isn’t one of those. In fact, the Ohio Supreme Court explicitly rejects it.

For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-920-4708 .