Safety and OSHA News

Meeting or party? Workers’ comp hangs in the balance

When an employee finished her shift at work, she drove to her boss’ house for what she said was a work meeting. The company said it was a party. On the way, she was involved in a crash. Will she get workers’ comp?

Heather Nunn was a shift supervisor at Noodles restaurant in Eagan, MN. One night, she closed the restaurant, clocked out and headed to the home of the restaurant’s general manager. On the way, Nunn, on her motorcycle, ran a red light, making a left turn in front of an oncoming car. She suffered serious injuries with medical bills over $250,000. She had no health or disability insurance.

When the general manager had set the date for the meeting, Nunn said she had other plans for the evening, but the GM directed her to attend.

The GM was supposed to train Nunn to be an assistant manager at a new restaurant. The meeting was supposed to be about Nunn’s upcoming training, according to the employee.

But the restaurant and its workers’ comp insurance carrier, Zurich American, claimed the gathering at the general manager’s home was strictly social.

Court documents say from the start of the case, Zurich’s claims representative and its attorneys understood if the GM called the meeting for business purposes, Nunn’s claim would be covered. A Zurich attorney told that to the restaurant.

The Noodles area manager testified that a Zurich attorney also explained to the general manager the importance of characterizing the meeting as social. The general manager told Noodles’ head of HR the meeting was social, and the head of HR passed that on to a Zurich claims representative.

The claims representative denied Nunn’s claim. The employee sued the restaurant and Zurich for intentional obstruction of workers’ compensation.

However, a recorded statement by the general manager contradicted his earlier claim that the meeting wasn’t work-related. In the recording, the GM said the purpose of the meeting was to discuss work, specifically the new restaurant and training issues. The GM also admitted holding previous work meetings at his house. But this recording didn’t surface until the case got to the U.S. 8th Circuit Court.

As this case bounced around the court system, the result changed. An administrative law judge ruled Nunn had been instructed to attend a business meeting. A district court reversed that decision, and granted Noodles’ request to throw out the case.

Now, the 8th Circuit has weighed in.  It said there was enough evidence that “genuine issues of material fact remain for trial.” The court said Nunn had a case and sent Nunn’s lawsuit back to a lower court for trial.

So the situation remains unresolved. But many times at this point, companies and their insurance carriers will try to settle to avoid even more costly outcomes from a trial.

What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

(Nunn v. Noodles & Co.; Zurich American Insurance Co., U.S. Court of Appeals, 8th Circuit, No. 11-1531, 3/22/12)

Print Friendly

Subscribe Today

Get the latest and greatest safety news and insights delivered to your inbox.

Comments

  1. Nunn had been telling the truth all along. The recording used in court proved that. The GM was lying which forced Zurich American to go along with him. She should get WC but not the full benefits. She’s the one that ran the red light that caused the accident.

    Also, Zurich American should go after that GM and the company for defaming the Zurich American name.

    I wonder how she can get away without having any motor vehicle insurance? And because she didn’t have insurance, does that mean the her company has to pay the bills of the other driver? HMMM

  2. Tom Nonnon says:

    Why is this even going before Workman’s Comp?
    Whether this was job realted (Party or meeting?) seems to be tangental to the question.

    It is admitted that she was the cause of her accident (“Nunn, on her motorcycle, ran a red light, making a left turn in front of an oncoming car”). If she ran a red light & got injured everything should be covered by auto insurance. Are individuals not responsible for their own actions when they break the law?

  3. I believe there have been cases where employees were covered who had been required to attend company social events because that atendance requirement made the event work-related. I think the main issue should be that the employee’s violation of traffic laws was the cause of the accident. Being injured while in violation of the law should be a disqualifier for WC.

  4. There may gave been other factors involved in this entire situation that none of you are aware of. Was she under time constraints to get to this meeting? IF so maybe her GM had told her get here or dont get promoted. There are variables that you nor I know. The fact remains if a semi tractor drive runs a red light, on purpose or on accident and is involved in an accident he is covered by WC. That being said if she was asked to drive her vehicle to her employers home for a work meeting and an accident was caused by her or someone else she should be covered same as the semi tractor driver would be. Its irrelevant who caused the accident. Only was she on the clock when she was in the accident.

  5. Unfortunately workers comp is a no-fault system. That means a worker could intentionally stick his arm in a meat grinder to get comp benefits. It’s not exactly a perfect system. On the other hand, claims would be tied up in court indefinitely if the option to prove fault were there.

    Using logic, this lady definitely doesn’t deserve benefits. She willingly ran a red light trying to beat traffic and got nailed in the process. Are companies supposed to provide safety training for commutes to and from work now?

  6. Not sure if whether the meeting was work related or not is the issue here. Also, whether the incident was the employees fault is irrelevent. Workers comp is no fault.

    If an employee is in a car accident on their way to or from work it is not covered under Worker Comp. This is much the same scenario. However I know of a case where an employee who was on an out of state business trip in California was injured in a traffic accident and it was covered under workers compensation because travel was part of the job.

    This one is in a grey area.

  7. Maybe we need more clear guidelines as to when a car accident on the way to or from work is entitle to WC. Why would a semi truck driver can claim it and this woman can’t. Not a good think for businesses if any time an employee has a car accident they have to pay WC.

  8. Hi Gigi, The guideline is that they are covered if they are on the clock. The article states that “she closed the restaurant and clocked out” which means she was off the clock.

    Maybe at the time she was to arrived at the meeting she was to clock back in.

    I wouldn’t have clocked out if I was told to drive somewhere to attend a meeting that has to do with work?

  9. Thanks Bill -good to know.

  10. You don’t have to be “on the clock” to get WC benefits. You just need to be doing something that is in the interest of your employer. Thats why people get benefits from attending bowling events when they hurt their back. If your employer required you to do something or be somewhere, and you get injury, you are going to get WC.

    Now, in WI, if you can show the injured worker failed a drug test and/or broke a safety rule, the injured worker could see a reduction in benefits. As long as Noodles has a policy that requires their workers to abide by all traffic laws.

    I agree, no where close to a perfect system but at least there is a sliver of accountability!

  11. So Jason B. If I’m at work on Friday and my supervisor asked if I can pick something up for the company in my travels. Then on Sunday I happen to go to Home depot for myself and while I’m there I pick up what my supervisor asked. Then I get into an accident on the way home. Your saying I’m covered under WC because my supervisor asked me to pick up that item for the company? I am doing what he instructed.

    FYI, I personally wouldn’t stoop that low.

  12. First, I didn’t make the rules or have any input on cases where this has happened. But yes Bill, if the scenario described in your post actually happened, here in WI anyway, WC would likely be awarded. Like you said at the end of your post, you were doing what he instructed.

    Google “dual purpose doctrine” and I think you will see what I am referring to.

    Personally, I wouldn’t either but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

  13. You never know when an accident can occur and whether it will be considered a workplace accident or not. It’s best to err on the side of caution when holding workplace events outside of the office.

  14. In MN if a motorcycle sits at a red light for two or more full cycles they are legally able to go through the light without breaking the law. For your information I paid insurance on my motorcycle monthly, I was not medically insured through my work. I sat at the red light for 8+ minutes and 4 cycles of the light to which I never got a green light. I was not turning left but going straight through the intersection. No cars were coming behind me to trip it or from the other direction to trip it either so I checked until what I thought was a clear moment to cross but unfortunately to all involved because of the hill to my right going down the cars already lined up in the turn lane to go left and the sun being down I must have missed the oncoming car that hit me. Now if the driver of the other vehicle involved was paying attention it may have been avoided as well. I was almost half way out of her lane of traffic when I was hit by her car. After striking me she didn’t even hit her breaks and dragged me through the intersection. What happened was 100% an accident. There was no underlying intention of trying to “beat traffic” just trying to be a part of it to begin with.

  15. Captain Safety says:

    Thanks, Nunn, for clearing that up. I never got the insinuation that you didn’t have motor vehicle insurance. The article only states that you didn’t have medical insurance through work. I hope you’re doing ok. Motorcycle accidents are no joke, but I’m not sure travelling TO a work-related meeting will be covered under worker’s comp. The article also doesn’t say whether or not you were being paid for your time at your boss’s house. That might be a major factor. Hang in there.

Trackbacks

  1. […] her way, Heather ran a red light and was injured when a car crashed into her motorcycle. Heather suffered serious injuries resulting in medical bills of over […]

Leave a Reply to Mike Cancel reply

*