While attending a company-sponsored event, an employee was injured when a golf cart, driven by her co-worker, ran up a curb and tipped over onto her leg. The woman received workers’ comp benefits. Can she also sue her co-worker?
Meredith Sims was attending a company gathering called “Kitchen Managers University” (KMU) as a Texas Roadhouse employee. The event was held on the island of Put-in-Bay, Ohio.
Texas Roadhouse paid for the cabins where the workers stayed. It also provided food and beverages – including alcoholic ones – for consumption by KMU attendees.
Golf carts are the primary means of transportation on the island, and they are used on streets. KMU attendees were told they could rent golf carts. Texas Roadhouse didn’t pay for the golf cart rentals – the employees did.
One night during the multi-day event, Sims and some of her co-workers including Tabitha Marren went to three bars after dinner and then drove back to where they were staying. Once back at their cabin, a company manager invited them to go back downtown and continue socializing with other Texas Roadhouse employees. Marren volunteered to drive the golf cart to get there.
On their way, Marren turned her head while driving and the cart drove up a curb. Most of the women escaped injury, but the cart landed on Sims’ leg which was bleeding. She also suffered facial injuries.
The Texas Roadhouse manager showed up, said the company would “take care of it,” and Marren went back to the cabin where she was later arrested. Police charged her with leaving the scene of the accident and for failure to control the golf cart. Her blood alcohol content wasn’t tested, and she wasn’t cited for driving the cart while impaired.
Texas Roadhouse is self-insured for workers’ comp. It compensated Sims for medical treatment and lost wages because of the accident.
Some time later, Sims sued her co-worker, Marren, the golf cart rental agency and her auto insurance company. For the purposes of this article, we’ll look mostly at the portion of the lawsuit against Marren.
Sims claimed Marren was negligent and reckless in her operation of the cart.
All the parties sued by Sims moved for summary judgment (i.e. throwing out the lawsuit) which was granted by the trial court. Sims took her claims to an Ohio appeals court.
Work-related or not?
Marren argued Sims’ injuries occurred in the scope and course of employment and were compensated through workers’ comp, therefore as a co-worker, she was immune from prosecution.
Sims countered that the accident couldn’t have been in the scope and course of employment because the purpose of the drive downtown was to visit bars, not to conduct Texas Roadhouse business.
Here’s what the appeals court found:
“Texas Roadhouse not only consented to or acquiesced in the consumption of alcohol and use of carts to provide transportation between the resort and the bars, it encouraged such conduct … As such, Texas Roadhouse consented to and acquiesced in Marren’s conduct, leading to the inevitable conclusion that Marren’s conduct was in the course of and arising out of her employment with Texas Roadhouse. She is therefore entitled to immunity.”
The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s decision to throw out Sims’ lawsuit against Marren and the others.
There’s a reason workers’ compensation is referred to as “the exclusive remedy” between an injured employee and the employer. Liability lawsuits by injured employees against their employer and (in most cases) co-workers are barred by workers’ comp law.
What do you think about this case? Let us know in the comments.
(Sims v. Marren, Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District, 2015-Ohio-2232, 6/5/15)