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In Workers’ Compensation Case, Maryland Court of Special Appeals Holds That Traveling Employee Sent To a Hotel For Work Is Entitled To Recover For Injury Sustained While Dancing at the Hotel Night Club After Work Hours

Dallas E. Gravette v. Visual Aids Electronics, et al.
No. 291 (Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, April 29, 2014)

by Richard J. Medoff, Summer Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Available at http://www.mdcourts.gov/opinions/cosa/2014/0291s13.pdf

In Dallas E. Gravette v. Visual Aids Electronics, et al., the Maryland Court of Special Appeals unanimously held that a traveling employee injured while dancing after work hours at a nightclub located in the hotel where his room was paid for by his employer, was entitled to recover workers’ compensation benefits. The Court of Special Appeals rejected Defendant’s argument that an injury sustained while dancing did not arise out of, and in the course of, his employment, and concluded that a traveling employee who is engaged in reasonable and foreseeable recreational activities when injured, is entitled to recover workers’ compensation benefits for his injuries because such recreational activities are “reasonably incident to travel,” and thus satisfy the positional-risk test espoused by Mulready v. University Research, 360 Md. 51 (2000). The Court of Special Appeals reversed the judgment entered by the Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, both of whom rejected the traveling employee’s claim. The appellate court remanded the case to the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission. Judge James Salmon wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Wright and Matricciani.

By way of factual background, on July 10, 2011, Dallas Gravette was injured at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Prince George’s County Maryland. Mr. Gravette was staying at the Gaylord Hotel because he had been assigned by his employer, Visual Aids Electronics Corp., to set up and service audio visual equipment for the Gaylord from July 7 - 16, 2011. After work hours on July 10, Mr. Gravette went to the Pose Ultra Lounge & Nightclub located inside the Hotel. Around midnight, Mr. Gravette was dancing when he slipped on some liquid on the dance floor and fell, injuring his pelvis. There was no indication that he was intoxicated at the time of his fall.

Mr. Gravette filed a workers’ compensation claim, which was denied by the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission on the grounds that Mr. Gravette “did not sustain an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of employment.” Mr. Gravette appealed the Commission’s decision to the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County. The circuit court also denied Mr. Gravette’s claim based on the finding that his injuries “weren’t incidental to the travel requested by [his] employer such as eating and bathing are compensable,” under Mulready. Mr. Gravette appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

The Court of Special Appeals noted that Mulready, the seminal case regarding the compensability of injuries suffered by traveling employees, established the rule that an injury to a traveling employee generally is compensable “so long as it occurred as a result of an activity reasonably incidental to the travel that the employer required. Thus, even injuries suffered by traveling employees as a result of common perils of everyday life or as a result of purportedly personal acts generally are compensable.” Mulready, 360 Md. at 66. In Mulready, the court concluded that an injury suffered by a traveling employee who slipped and fell in the shower in a hotel room arose out of the worker’s employment and was compensable.

The Court of Special Appeals noted that, like the employee in Mulready, Mr. Gravette was also injured in a hotel where he was assigned to work temporarily and was also injured after work hours. Unlike Mulready however, Mr. Gravette was injured on a dance floor in the hotel, rather than in his hotel room. With all relevant facts stipulated to, the only question before the Court of Special Appeals was “whether engaging in a recreational activity like dancing while on premises where the employee is assigned to stay, is an activity [like eating in a hotel restaurant or taking a shower], ‘reasonably incidental to the travel required by the employer.”’ The Court of Special Appeals answered in the affirmative and reversed the ruling of the trial court.

The Court of Special Appeals stated that the employer had at least constructive notice that their traveling employees would make use of the entire facility at the Gaylord Hotel, and reasoned that the employer could expect that Mr. Gravette would leave his hotel room after work to engage in recreational facilities.

In reaching its conclusion, the Court of Special Appeals examined the cases cited by Mulready where workers’ compensation benefits were awarded, one of which, American Airlines v. LeFevers, involved an employee engaged in a recreation activity when injured. 674 So.2d 940 (Fla. 1 Dist. Court of Appeals (DCA) 1996). In LeFevers, a flight attendant was injured at a motel, paid for by her employer, when she dove into the motel pool during a mandatory layover. Additionally, the Court of Special Appeals noted that Mr. Gravette’s use of the on-site nightclub is at least as foreseeable as other reasonable recreational activities engaged in by traveling employees that were found by courts in other jurisdictions to have arisen out of, and in the course of, employment. See LeFevers, 674 So.2d 940 (using a swimming pool located on hotel premises), Gray v. Eastern Airlines, Inc., 475 So.2d 1288 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985) (using a basketball court located at a YMCA close to the Holiday Inn where the claimant was staying), Blakeway v. LeFebure, Corp., 393 So.2d 928, (La.App. 4th Cir. 1981) (using a motel swimming pool), McCann v. Hatchett, 19 S.W.3d 218 (Tenn. 2000) (using a motel swimming pool), Bagcraft Corp. v. Industrial Commission, 705 N.E.2d 919 (Illinois Court of Appeals, 3rd Dist. 1999) (using an ATV on premises where claimant was staying).

The Court of Special Appeals found no cases in other jurisdictions involving a traveling employee engaged in “reasonable” recreational activities at or near the premises where the traveling employee was staying, where the court held that the activity did not arise out of, and in the course of, employment. In reaching that finding, the Court of Special Appeals distinguished several cases where traveling employees’ recreational injuries were deemed not compensable, including Eastern Airlines v. Rigdon, 543 So.2d 822 (Fla. 1st DCA 1989). In Rigdon, a flight attendant was injured while downhill skiing 58 miles from the hotel where she was staying during a 24-hour layover, and the court ruled that was not a reasonable or foreseeable activity based on the distance traveled and the general nature of downhill skiing.

Examining Mr. Gravette’s decision to dance in the hotel nightclub, the Court of Special Appeals determined it was reasonable in that it was “not dangerous or out of the ordinary,” and foreseeable because the accident happened “1) on premises (his hotel) where the employee could be expected to utilize and, 2) not far removed from his actual work site.” Thus, because Mr. Gravette was a traveling employee injured while engaged in a reasonable and foreseeable recreational activity, the circuit court incorrectly ruled his injury did not arise out of and in the course of his employment. The Court of Special Appeals reversed the judgment of the circuit court and remanded the case to the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission.


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