Opinion Released February 1, 2018

State Office of Risk Management v. Arnold Pena, Guardian of Juan Carlos Pena, No. 13-16-00598-CV (Opinion by Justice Hinojosa; Panel Members: Justices Rodriguez and Longoria)

In this appeal from a final judgment, the Thirteenth Court analyzed the evidence necessary to show that a car accident is within the “course and scope of employment.”

J.C. was injured in a car accident while travelling from his HHSC office to a 1:30 p.m. mandatory training in a neighboring city. Arnold sought workers’ compensation benefits, but the State Office of Risk Management (“SORM”) argued that J.C. was on his lunch hour when the injury occurred at 12:06, and HHSC only provided 30 minutes of compensated travel time from 1:00 to 1:30. Arnold’s request for benefits was denied by a hearings officer and affirmed by an administrative appeals panel. Arnold then sought review from the district court.

SORM moved for a no-evidence summary judgment, claiming there was no evidence of an injury in J.C.’s course and scope of employment, and no evidence a disability resulted from a compensable injury. Arnold attached multiple depositions and claimed J.C.’s injury occurred while he was travelling for a “dual purpose,” one purpose being a work-related event. The trial court granted SORM’s motion. The Thirteenth Court of Appeals reversed, finding that Arnold presented a fact issue precluding summary judgment.

On remand, the case was tried to a jury. The key issue at trial was whether or not J.C. was working at the time of the injury. No witness was sure where J.C. was going to or coming from at the time of the accident. However, there was evidence and testimony offered regarding the HHSC’s mileage reimbursement policy, the fastest route to the neighboring city, and the proximity of the accident to J.C.’s home. The jury returned a verdict that J.C. sustained a compensable injury within the course and scope of his employment. The trial court entered judgment reversing the administrative appeals panel’s decision, holding that J.C. sustained a disability, and awarding attorney’s fees.

SORM appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence.

Held: The evidence was legally and factually sufficient to show that J.C. was injured in the course and scope of his employment. The judgment was affirmed.

Legal Sufficiency

First, SORM challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the finding that J.C.’s injury was within the course and scope of his employment.

The Labor Code defines “course and scope” as an activity “that has to do with and originates in the work, business, trade, or profession of the employer and that is performed by an employee while engaged in or about the furtherance of the affairs or business of the employer.” SORM challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to show that J.C.’s trip “originates in the work” and was in “furtherance of the affairs of business of the employer.”

Origination

Regarding origination, there was testimony that the training was mandatory, providing some evidence that J.C.’s travel originated in his employment.

Furtherance

Regarding the “furtherance” prong, the Thirteenth Court of Appeals noted that the Labor Code contains 2 exclusions from the definition of “course and scope of employment”: the coming-and-going and dual-purpose exclusions. The coming-and-going exclusion holds that transportation to and from a place of employment is not within the course and scope, unless it is paid travel or if the employee is on a “special mission,” i.e., he is directed by the employer to proceed from one place to the other. The dual purpose exclusion holds that transportation in the furtherance of both business and personal affairs is not in the course and scope of employment, unless the travel would have been made even if there had been no personal affair involved and would not have been made if it had not been required by the business affair.

The court noted that, in the prior appeal from SORM’s summary judgment, it held that there was legally sufficient evidence that J.C.’s travel was paid and that he was on a special mission. The deposition testimony relied upon in that appeal matches the witness’s testimony at trial. Moreover, SORM’s challenges to the paid travel and special mission exceptions to the coming-and-going exclusion were not preserved and have been waived.

Equal Inference Rule

SORM next argued that, although the jurors could infer J.C. was driving to Edinburg at the time of the accident, they could equally infer that he was on a distinct personal errand. SORM claimed Arnold was required to negate this possibility to avoid the equal inference rule. However, the jury was presented with no evidence regarding a distinct errand, and any inference would have been speculation.

Compensation

SORM further argued that HHSC employees were not compensated for the lunch hour, and J.C. was thus “off the clock” as a matter of law. The Thirteenth Court of Appeals rejected this argument, noting that compensation is not the definition of the “course and scope of employment.” Regardless, there was testimony that HHSC allowed the employees to go ahead and travel to the neighboring city during their lunch hour, and the employees were entitled to mileage reimbursement for the travel.

Davis v. Texas Mutual Insurance Company

Finally, SORM argued that the holding in Davis v. Texas Mutual Insurance Company, 443 S.W.3d 260 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2014, pet. denied), should be applied to the case. That case however, involved the “continuous coverage” rule, which was not at issue in this case.

Thus, the Thirteenth Court held that there was legally sufficient evidence to support the judgment.

Factual Sufficiency

SORM next challenged the factual sufficiency of the evidence to show that J.C.’s employer directed, required, or expected its employees to travel at 12:06. The Thirteenth Court noted that this was a general attack on the evidence, rather than a challenge to a specific element. The Thirteenth Court rejected this general attack, which relied on the faulty premise that Arnold bore the burden to show J.C. was being compensated at the precise minute of the accident. Rather, Arnold offered legally and factually sufficient evidence showing that J.C. was travelling in the direction of the neighboring city when the accident occurred.

The trial court’s judgment was thus affirmed.

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