Ohio Jury Uses MapQuest Data to Help Establish Significance of Claimant’s Deviation from Employment

An Ohio appellate court recently affirmed a jury’s determination that a home health care nursing director, who sustained injuries in an automobile accident as he drove from a restaurant to a pharmacy to retrieve a patient’s prescription, did not sustain an injury arising out of and in the course of his employment [Jones v. Multicare Health & Educ. Servs., 2014-Ohio-3724, 2014 Ohio App. LEXIS 3649 (Aug. 28, 2014)]. Noting that the jury considered, among other evidence, various data reports from MapQuest that showed the travel distance and travel times related to claimant’s purported personal deviation during a lunch break, the appellate found that even if the travel times were not fully authenticated, it amounted to harmless error since claimant had not objected to the admission of the reports at the time of trial.

Background

On the day of the accident, claimant was training a newly hired nurse. The two went to care for a patient at the patient’s residence in Cleveland. Since the the patient needed some medications, claimant took the prescription to a pharmacy located 1.5 miles from the patient’s home. Claimant testified that when he was told that it would take approximately 30 to 45 minutes to fill the prescription, he decided to take his lunch break, traveling to a restaurant located some 8 or 9 miles from the pharmacy. As claimant was returning from lunch to pick up the prescription and deliver it to the patient, clamant’s vehicle was struck on the I-90 exit ramp by another motor vehicle, causing claimant’s injuries.

The employer contended the auto accident occurred while claimant was engaged in a “personal frolic” or deviation from his employment and that he should be awarded no workers’ compensation benefits. The case proceeded to trial and a jury returned a verdict in favor of the employer.

Appellate Decision

Claimant contended that he had discretion as to “when, what, and how” to take his lunch break, and that since he was in the process of obtaining prescriptions for a patient, the trip was inside the scope of his employment. The appellate court held, however, that there was competent, credible evidence to support the idea that claimant was not within the scope of his employment. The court could not, therefore, say that the jury’s verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence. It was undisputed that claimant’s lunch break took him a significant distance from the pharmacy where he was engaged in his job duties and that only by reason of his decision to travel for lunch was he on the I-90 exit ramp.

The trial court allowed the employer to question claimant regarding estimated travel times and travel distances based on Mapquest data. While claimant stipulated to the distances, he contended on appeal that the travel times were not properly authenticated. The court noted that claimant’s attorney had objected to questions regarding the travel times listed within the Mapquest exhibits but did not object to the introduction of the exhibits themselves at the conclusion of trial. The court added that even accepting claimant’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing him to be questioned regarding the Mapquest travel times without proper authentication, it was harmless error. Claimant had an opportunity to explain that the travel times provided by Mapquest did not accurately represent the actual time it took him to travel the stipulated distances because the Mapquest times were based on speed limits and road conditions without traffic. The court added that furthermore, ample evidence was provided from which the jury could conclude that claimant’s lunch break took him outside the scope of his employment, such as the significant distance he traveled for lunch and the fact that the accident occurred on the exit ramp of a highway that claimant had no job-related reason to travel.

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