A hotel hired a company to do some work at its facility. While staying there, an employee of the company went to the hotel’s nightclub and was injured while dancing. Is the injury covered by workers’ comp?
Dallas Gravette was injured on July 10, 2011, at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland. He’d been staying at the resort hotel because his employer, Visual Aid Electronics, had been hired to provide audio visual equipment and services at the Gaylord.
That night, in the middle of what was to be more than a week-long stay, Gravette went to the nightclub located at the Gaylord while off duty. He was dancing when he slipped on some liquid on the dance floor, injuring his pelvis. According to court documents, there was “no indication Gravette was intoxicated at the time.”
Gravette applied for workers’ comp benefits.
The Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission denied Gravette’s claim on the ground his injury didn’t arise out of and in the course of employment.
When the case went before a local court, the trial judge found Gravette’s injuries weren’t “incidental to the travel requested by [his] employer such as eating and bathing are compensable.”
Most recently, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland heard an appeal from Gravette.
Showering or dancing: Does it matter?
The appeals court noted that, in Maryland, it had addressed whether an injury suffered by a traveling employee is covered by workers’ comp in the case Mulready v. University Research. In that case, a traveling employee slipped and fell while taking a shower in a hotel room.
In Mulready, the court awarded the employee workers’ comp benefits. In doing so, it set up this rule to be applied to traveling employee cases:
“An injury to a traveling employee generally is compensable so long as it occurred as a result of an activity reasonably incidental to the travel that the employer required. Thus, even injuries suffered by traveling employees as a result of common perils of everyday life or as a result of purportedly personal acts generally are compensable.”
Gravette’s case was similar to the situation in Mulready, with one exception: Gravette was engaged in a recreational activity.
So the question is this: Is an injury suffered by dancing in the hotel nightclub equally eligible for workers’ comp benefits compared to an injury slipping in the shower in a hotel room?
In Mulready, the court cited six previous cases from other jurisdictions in which workers’ comp was awarded:
- Employee suffocated in his sleep when his head was caught between the slats of a bed
- Employee was injured when diving into a hotel swimming pool
- The injury was caused by a gas stove explosion when the traveling employee was preparing a meal off hours
- Employee was killed in a hotel fire
- Employee was fatally injured when he tripped and fell from a hotel porch, and
- Employee was killed in a fall from a hotel window.
Of those six cases, only one involved a recreational activity: diving into a pool.
In that case, a flight attendant was staying at a hotel on a layover. She went to the hotel pool, dove in, hit her head and was severely injured.
The flight attendant received comp benefits for her injury.
But not all injuries suffered by a traveling employee while engaged in recreational activities are compensable – just those that are reasonable and foreseeable.
In Eastern Airlines v. Rigdon, a flight attendant on a 24-hour layover was injured while downhill skiing at a lodge 58 miles from the hotel where she was staying. The court ruled this flight attendant wasn’t eligible for comp benefits because this wasn’t a reasonable or foreseeable activity.
So, given all these previous cases, in which category did Gravette’s situation fall? The Maryland appeals court wrote:
“Nothing in the record in the subject case would support the conclusion that Gravette’s decision to dance at the nightclub located at the hotel, where his room was paid for by his employer, was anything other than normal or prudent … because [Gravette] was required to stay at the hotel for over a week, his employer could not expect that he would remain in his hotel room when he was not working and refrain from engaging in recreational activities.”
The appeals court determined Gravette was “engaged in reasonable and foreseeable recreational activities” when he was injured and should receive workers’ comp benefits.
As usual, we note that workers’ comp laws vary from state to state, and as commercials sometimes note, “Your results may vary.”
But this case in Maryland quoted court decisions from several other states. The take-home for employers: When your employees travel for work, injuries they suffer in “reasonable” recreational activities may be covered by workers’ comp.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments.
(Dallas Gravette v. Visual Aids Electronics, Court of Special Appeals of MD, No. 291, 4/29/14)