A company held a golf outing as part of a sales meeting. Were injuries suffered by one worker who was thrown from a golf cart covered by workers’ comp?
William Curtis and Michael Lemna were both employees of Henkel of America dba Dial Corp., headquartered in Arizona. In August 2007, they were among a number of employees who traveled to Arkansas for a sales meeting with major clients.
During the round of golf, Lemna accidentally drove the cart he and Curtis were in over a retaining wall. Both men were thrown from the cart. Curtis suffered a shoulder injury.
At first, Curtis filed for workers’ compensation in Arizona where he normally worked.
Then he substituted that claim for a lawsuit, alleging Lemna’s negligence was the cause of the cart crash and his injury.
Lemna asked that the lawsuit be dismissed because as co-workers, he would be immune to a lawsuit under Arkansas’s Workers’ Compensation Law.
A court sent the lawsuit to the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission to determine whether Curtis was barred from suing under state law.
An administrative law judge found that at the time of the cart crash, Curtis and Lemna were within the scope of their employment. Therefore Lemna was entitled to immunity under Arkansas law.
The full Workers’ Compensation Commission agreed as did a court of appeals. Curtis took his case to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Golf for work or pleasure?
His argument: There wasn’t substantial evidence to support the decision that he and Lemna were within the scope of their employment, therefore co-worker immunity was extended to Lemna.
Curtis argued he and Lemna were golfing for pleasure and the golf cart wasn’t a work site.
A Dial VP testified he coordinated the sales meeting, including the golf arrangements. The VP testified:
- the golf outing was a “team building exercise”
- they brought personnel from Dial HQ in Arizona to Arkansas to allow the local Dial employees to have access to a group of co-workers they normally didn’t have much access to
- the purpose of the golf was to allow the “free flow exchange of thoughts and ideas around the business … and to promote dialogue,” and
- Dial paid for all the expenses related to the meeting, including golf-club and cart rental and greens’ fees.
The VP said as a team building exercise, the golf outing was “absolutely” beneficial to Dial.
After reviewing that testimony, the Arkansas Supreme Court found the Commission’s decision that the injury occurred within the scope of his employment was supported by the evidence.
The only question that remained was whether immunity given to companies under the exclusive remedy of workers’ comp should also be extended to Lemna.
The court ruled that since Lemna drove the golf cart for the two men to participate in the team building golf outing, immunity from a lawsuit should extend to Lemna.
Compared to some of the team building exercise cases we’ve covered, this one is much more clear-cut. The company didn’t deny that the golf outing was part of a work activity.
It might not have felt to Curtis that he and Lemna weren’t working at the time they were golfing, but for workers’ compensation purposes, they were.
What do you think of the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments.
(William Curtis v. Michael Lemna, Supreme Court of Arkansas, No. CV-13-1048, 9/18/14)