Traveling sales representative's death in hotel fire generates WC benefits
Case name: Ardis (deceased) v. Combined Insurance Co., et al., No. 4441 (S.C. Ct. App. 10/14/08).
What it means: An employee is acting within the scope of his employment when he stays overnight at the hotel where a business meeting occurred, was at the hotel solely because of his employment, and the employer made the reservations and paid for the hotel. Further, under the personal comfort doctrine, the act of sleeping may be incidental to employment.
An insurance sales representative traveled from South Carolina to Georgia to attend a regional sales meeting. The employer booked and was responsible for payment of the employee's two-night stay at a hotel. After the sales meeting concluded on Saturday afternoon, the employee and his girlfriend shopped, bowled and ate dinner before returning to the hotel around midnight. While they were sleeping, a fire broke out in the hotel. Because of the heavy smoke, the employee was unable to escape and died of smoke inhalation. The Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that the employee's death occurred within the scope and course of his employment and upheld a lump-sum award and burial expenses to his beneficiaries.
The employer argued that the employee's death occurred outside the scope of his employment because he died after the meeting ended, was not on the employer's premises, and it had no control over his activities once the meeting was over.
The Court of Appeals found that while the employee's death in a hotel fire may not have been foreseeable, "the possibility that he could be injured or perish while on an out-of-town business trip is a risk directly connected with the nature of [his] employment." It was "reasonably foreseeable and incidental to the fulfillment of his duties" that he would spend the night at the hotel where the meeting occurred.
The court also found that under the personal comfort doctrine, certain acts that "are necessary to the life, comfort, and convenience" of the employee, including sleeping, are incidental to employment. As a result, if an employee is injured while engaged in such an activity, compensation may be awarded.
November 20, 2008
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