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)