Kentucky: Stable Groom, Injured In Auto Accident Returning to Kentucky From New York, Was “Traveling Employee” In Spite of Indefinite Nature of Travel Details

A stable groom for a horse farm, who sustained multiple injuries in an automobile accident that occurred while he rode with a friend back to Kentucky from Saratoga, New York, sustained injuries that arose out of and in the course of the employment, in spite of the fact that the employer controlled none of the details of the return trip, held the Supreme Court of Kentucky yesterday [see Gaines Gentry Thoroughbreds Fayette Farms v. Mandujano, 2012 Ky. LEXIS 67 (May 24, 2012)]. Affirming a decision by a state administrative law judge that subsequently was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of Kentucky, the high court indicated that the fact that the date, time, method, and manner of the worker’s return trip was indefinite and left completely up to the worker did not defeat the claim.  

The stable groom had initially accompanied six of the employer’s horses to a sales event in New York, riding in a van rented by the employer. As was the custom in the business, he was expected to get back to Kentucky on his own. He could have returned in the rented van when the employer’s horses were sold, but decided to stay on for five additional days earning money helping another breeder at the horse sale. The employer contended that the accident was unrelated to work since any possible duties the groomer performed for the farm ended when its yearlings were sold.

The groomer countered that the accident and resulting injuries were work-related for several reasons: the travel that produced them was a regular incident of the employment and the employment exposed him to the risk of being sent to a horse sale without being offered return transportation. The ALJ acknowledged that the injury did not occur while the groomer was working for the employer, but during the “necessary and inevitable” act of completing a journey that the employer had initiated. Citing Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, the Supreme Court agreed, noting that as a general rule, employees whose work entailed travel requires them to be away from the employer’s premises are within the course of their employment continuously during the trip, except when a distinct departure on a personal errand is shown. Here, no such departure had been shown by the employer.

It further observed that in Craddock v. Imperial Casualty and Indemnity, 451 S.W.2d 658, 661 (Ky. 1970), it had set forth the test for determining whether a trip that serves both a business and personal purpose is work-related: A trip is personal if it would have been made without regard to the business purpose and would have been dropped in the event of the failure of the private purpose. The trip is work-related “if it would have been made regardless of the private purpose, because the service to be performed for the employer would have caused the journey to be made by someone even if it had not coincided with the employee’s personal journey. ”[quoting Larson § 16.02.]

The Supreme Court continued that the ALJ found reasonably from the conflicting evidence that the employer’s representative “instructed” the groom to travel to Saratoga in the van with the farm’s yearlings “in order to be close to the horses and to attend to their care” and paid him to do so. The ALJ also found reasonably that having an employee travel in the van with the horses served the employer’s interests, and the representative admitted that he would have sent another employee to accompany the horses had the injured groom not done so. While the groom may have planned initially to travel to Saratoga for purely personal reasons and although he conducted personal business with the employer’s permission during at least part of his time at Saratoga, the purpose of his travel to Saratoga became work-related before he embarked on the journey.

The Kentucky court also observed that the traveling employee doctrine was grounded in the positional risk doctrine“ and that the ALJ did not err by concluding that the traveling employee and positional doctrines permitted compensation in the case [again citing Larson, ch. 14]. According to the court, the accident in which the groom was injured occurred during the ”necessary and inevitable” act of completing the journey he undertook for the employer. In other words, travel necessitated by the claimant’s employment placed him in what turned out to be a place of danger and he was injured as a consequence. Having neither provided nor specified a means of return transportation to Kentucky, the employer could not complain that it had no control over the means the groom selected.

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