You can’t make this stuff up. A casino employee says she was in the course of work when, returning from a bingo parlor, the car her sister was driving struck a 400-pound hog. Will she get workers’ comp for this?
Virginia Applequist was a director of player development for Pearl River Resort (PRR) in Choctaw, MS. Her duties included conducting market research of competing gaming facilities.
In January 2010, Applequist planned to research several new slot-parlor bingo facilities that had opened in Birmingham AL. PRR was the closest casino with gaming tables to these bingo parlors.
On Jan. 23, 2010, Applequist traveled to three of the new facilities to survey them. She asked her sister, a long-time Birmingham resident, to accompany her.
On the way home from Bama Bingo at 4 a.m., the last facility they visited, their car hit a 400-pound wild hog. Applequist and her sister were injured and spent several days in the hospital. Applequist wore a back brace and worked from home for 90 days following the crash.
In September 2011, the casino let her go. It was then that she filed for workers’ comp benefits for the crash.
An administrative law judge found Applequist was returning home from conducting work-related market research and that she was in the course and scope of her employment when she was injured. The Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission affirmed the ALJ’s decision.
PRR appealed, insisting Applequist wasn’t really doing casino-related work when she was injured. Recently, a Mississippi appeals court ruled in the case.
The appeals court noted that the Mississippi Supreme Court addressed workers’ comp for traveling employees more than 50 years ago:
“From the time a traveling employee leaves home on a business trip until his or her return, the employee is within the course of employment for workers’ compensation purposes. This is so unless the worker has deviated from his or her work task or is on a personal errand. Otherwise, an injury during travel is compensable.”
The court found “travel was unquestionably a large part of Applequist’s work.” Her job description included the willingness “to perform extensive travel.”
But PRR said there was proof Applequist’s trip to Bama Bingo wasn’t really work-related:
- Her sister was driving the car
- Applequist didn’t request travel reimbursement for the trip, and
- She didn’t immediately seek workers’ comp after she was injured.
But Applequist had explanations:
- Applequist said she had taken prescription painkiller medication at the time, and that’s why she asked her sister to drive
- As for travel reimbursement, Applequist said she would submit three-month estimates of projected expenses as per an agreement with the casino, proof of which was entered into evidence, and
- She didn’t immediately seek workers’ comp benefits because she’d never had a work injury before.
Applequist also testified about her inspection of the competing gaming hall, detailing her specific focus on the facility.
In its opinion, the court seemed to say its hands were mostly tied when it came to this case:
“While this court might have reached a different result were we the fact-finder here, credibility decisions in workers’ compensation cases are for the Commission, not appellate court.”
So the court gave deference to the Commission’s finding that Applequist’s testimony was credible, therefore she was in the course and scope of employment when the car hit the hog and she should receive workers’ comp.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments.
(Choctaw Resort Development Enterprise v. Virginia D. Applequist, Court of Appeals of Mississippi, No. 2014-WC-969-COA, 4/21/15)