Missouri: No Disability for Hunting Trip Accident

Claimant sustained catastrophic injuries from a single car pre-dawn accident in 2008 on a gravel country road when his car went off the road.  The parties stipulated that the 30-year old claimant was unemployable but disputed whether his accident arose from his employment when he was found early on a Saturday morning dressed in hunting camouflage and possessing a deer rifle.  The court of appeals affirmed a denial of compensation by the Commission that claimant failed to prove his accident while he was going hunting was compensable under the  dual purpose doctrine.  The case is Wilson v Wilson, 2011 Mo. App. Lexis 1672 (Dec. 20, 2011).  Wilson v Wilson , 2011 MOWCLR Lexis 37 (March 3, 2011).

The administrative law judge awarded benefits, including nursing, psychiatric care, car and home modification.  The claimant had retrograde amnesia and was unable to testify regarding the circumstances of the accident. He appeared with his dependent daughter, who was a party, and his guardian.   Claimant’s live-in girlfriend provided testimony that claimant was on a business trip.   Claimant asserted he had was not engaged in a purely personal activity at the time of the accident.    The commission’s critical issue was whether claimant's personal errand had been cancelled, he would not have been where he was when the accident occurred.  Claimant had changed his route and physically deviated from his planned business trip.  Claimant did not demonstrate hunting early on a Saturday morning was a mutual benefit for the company (which he owned), that he had a business purpose while hunting to discuss employment with the landowner, or that he had not deviated from a business lunch planned several hours later.  The ALJ found the event compensable under the mutual benefit/dual purpose doctrine, in part, because driving on small country roads served a business purpose to assess obstacles to move mobile homes. 

The case is important in several respects.  The case highlights the broad scope of medical liability, which includes potential home modification.  In the case claimant’s medical bills were $965,000 in one year between the December 2008 accident and the November 2009 hearing.  About half of the medical bills had been written off or paid by Medicaid. Missouri has previously recognized medical care may include home modifications that are medically necessary to a claimant that is wheel-chair bound.  Hall v. Frucon Construction, 46 S.W.3d 30 (Mo. App. 2011).  The court applied a pre-reform interpretation of the dual purpose and mutual benefit doctrine, and did not address whether statutory reform that required strict construction modified those doctrines. The issue was not preserved on appeal.   The court rejected a motion by the “employer” to dismiss the employee/owner’s brief due to immaterial briefing errors. 

Source: Martin Klug, Huck, Howe & Tobin. Read Martin Klug's Mo. Workers' Comp Alerts.

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