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Osten v. Bureau of Workers' Compensation

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

December 29, 2017

AYSHA OSTEN Plaintiff-Appellant
BUREAU OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION, et al. Defendants-Appellees

         Civil Appeal from Common Pleas Court Trial Court Case No. 2016-CV-3922

          GARY D. PLUNKETT, Atty. Reg. No. 0046805, RACHEL D. SIEKMAN, Atty. Reg. No. 0091012, 3033 Kettering Boulevard, Suite 201, Dayton, Ohio 45439 Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant

          DAVID C. KORTE, Atty. Reg. No. 0019382, MICHELLE D. BACH, Atty. Reg. No. 0065313, JOSHUA R. LOUNSBURY, Atty. Reg. No. 0078175, Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee-PSA Airlines, Inc.

          NATHAN P. FRANZEN, Atty. Reg. No. 0092532, Attorney for Defendant-Appellee-Bureau of Workers' Compensation


          WELBAUM, J.

         {¶ 1} Plaintiff-Appellant, Aysha Osten, appeals from a judgment dismissing her appeal from a decision of Defendant-Appellee, Sarah D. Morrison, Administrator of the Bureau of Workers' Compensation ("BWC"). Osten contends that the trial court erred when it concluded that she did not have a right to participate in the Workers' Compensation Fund as a matter of law.

         {¶ 2} We conclude that the trial court correctly found that Osten, a traveling employee, was on a personal errand at the time of her injury and was not entitled to receive workers' compensation benefits. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court will be affirmed.

         I. Facts and Course of Proceedings

         {¶ 3} On January 27, 2016, Aysha Osten was employed as a flight attendant by Defendant-Appellee, PSA Airlines, Inc. ("PSA"). After completing her flight for the day at about 12:30 p.m., Osten checked into a Hampton Inn located near LaGuardia Airport in New York City. That evening, after going to dinner with other PSA employees, Osten fell on a public sidewalk while returning to the Inn, and sustained injuries to her wrists and knees.

         {¶ 4} Osten applied for Workers' Compensation and was initially approved for benefits based on contusions of the wrists and knees. However, on April 14, 2016, a district hearing officer vacated the order of the administrator and denied benefits to Osten. The decision was based on a conclusion that the injury occurred in the course of Osten's own errand, not on an errand of PSA, and that the errand was not sufficiently connected to Osten's employment.

         {¶ 5} Osten appealed, but a staff hearing officer affirmed the decision on May 27, 2016. After the BWC denied further appeal, Osten filed a notice of appeal and a complaint with the trial court on July 29, 2016, naming the BWC and PSA as defendants. Subsequently, PSA and Osten filed cross-motions for summary judgment in March 2017. BWC did not file a summary judgment motion, but agreed with PSA's position. The trial court then rendered summary judgment in PSA's favor in May 2017, finding that Osten was on a personal errand at the time of her injury and was not entitled to participate in the workers' compensation fund. The court, therefore, dismissed Osten's case. Osten timely appealed from the trial court's decision.

         II. Entitlement to Participate in the Workers' Compensation Fund

         {¶ 6} Osten's sole assignment of error states that:

The Trial Court Erred When It Failed to Find that Appellant Was a Traveling Employee Who Has a Right to Participate in the Workers' Compensation Fund as a Matter of Law.

         {¶ 7} Under this assignment of error, Osten contends that she was not on a personal errand at the time of her injury. Her argument is based on several factors, including her receipt of an hourly wage during travel, her employer's mandate that she stay at a particular hotel, and the emphasis in the union contract on the nutritional needs of flight crews.

         {¶ 8} As was noted, the trial court granted summary judgment against Osten and dismissed her complaint for benefits. "A trial court may grant a moving party summary judgment pursuant to Civ. R. 56 if there are no genuine issues of material fact remaining to be litigated, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and reasonable minds can come to only one conclusion, and that conclusion is adverse to the nonmoving party, who is entitled to have the evidence construed most strongly in his favor." Smith v. Five Rivers MetroParks, 134 Ohio App.3d 754, 760, 732 N.E.2d 422 (2d Dist.1999), citing Harless v. Willis Day Warehousing Co., 54 Ohio St.2d 64, 375 N.E.2d 46 (1978). "We review decisions granting summary judgment de novo, which means that we apply the same standards as the trial court." (Citations omitted.) GNFH, Inc. v. W. Am. Ins. Co., 172 Ohio App.3d 127, 2007-Ohio-2722, 873 N.E.2d 345, ¶ 16 (2d Dist.).

         {¶ 9} The Workers' Compensation Act is codified in R.C. Chap. 4123. Injuries that employees sustain are compensable for purposes of the Workers' Compensation Act only if they were " ' "received in the course of, and arising out of, the injured employee's employment." ' " Fisher v. Mayfield, 49 Ohio St.3d 275, 276, 551 N.E.2d 1271 (1990), quoting Bralley v. Daugherty, 61 Ohio St.2d 302, 401 N.E.2d 448 (1980). (Other citations omitted.) " The test of the right to participate in the Workers' Compensation Fund is not whether there was any fault or neglect on the part of the employer or his employees, but whether a "causal connection" existed between an employee's injury and his employment either through the activities, the conditions or the environment of the employment.' " (Citations omitted.) Id. at 276-277.

         {¶ 10} The coverage formula of " 'in the course of and arising out of " employment is conjunctive, and applicants must meet all elements of the formula to recover under the Act. Fisher at 277. The term " 'in the course' " is associated with "the time, place and circumstances of the injury, " while " 'arising out of * * * contemplates a causal connection between the injury and the employment." Id. at 277-278.

         {¶ 11} Regarding the first prong, benefits are limited "to employees who sustain injuries while engaged in a required employment duty or activity consistent with their contract for hire and logically related to the employer's business." Friebel v. Visiting Nurse Assn. of Mid-Ohio, 142 Ohio St.3d 425, 2014-Ohio-4531, 32 N.E.3d 413, ¶ 13, citing Ruckman v. Cubby Drilling, Inc., 81 Ohio St.3d 117, 120, 689 N.E.2d 917 (1998).

         {¶ 12} With respect to the second prong, which relates to "arising out of" employment, the existence of a sufficient causal connection "depends upon the 'totality of the facts and circumstances' regarding the accident." Lord v. Daugherty, 66 Ohio St.2d 441, 444, 423 N.E.2d 96');">423 N.E.2d 96 (1981); Fisher, 49 Ohio St.3d at 277, 551 N.E.2d 1271. These "circumstances include: (1) the proximity of the scene of the accident to the place of employment; (2) the degree of control the employer had over the scene of the accident; and (3) the benefit the employer received from the injured employee's presence at the scene of the accident." (Citation omitted.) Lord at 444. Accord Friebel at ¶ 14; Fisher at 277. This list of factors is not exclusive, but is "intended to be illustrative of the factors that need to be considered." Fisher at 279, fn.2. Furthermore, the coverage requirements are liberally construed in an employee's favor. (Citation omitted.) Id. at 278.

         {¶ 13} In Friebel, the Supreme Court of Ohio commented that in addition to the above factors, " 'similar fact patterns have promulgated their own set of rules.' " Id. at ¶ 15, quoting Fisher at 280. As an illustration, the court noted that "for employees who travel regularly for work and who are injured away from the workplace during an employment-related trip, courts have generally held that the employee is entitled to ...

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