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The purpose of the Indiana Worker's Compensation Act is to recognize and rectify illness and accidents that result from an unusual exposure to occupational hazards not encountered to the same extent by persons not so employed. It is not intended to insure an employee against injuries resulting from risks that are neither created nor aggravated by his occupational activities.
At the time of his death, Raymond was employed by Bob Evans as an area director. As area director, Raymond was responsible for ensuring the safe and efficient operation of the restaurants in his district. Raymond reported to Kathleen Evans ("Kathleen"), vice president regional director. On June 24, 1996, Bob Evans opened a new restaurant in Princeton, Indiana. As part of his employment duties, Raymond attended the grand opening. On that day, Raymond arrived at the restaurant around 6:00 a.m. Later that morning, Raymond left the restaurant to pick up Kathleen, Don Evans, chairman of the board, and other corporate representatives. Raymond returned to the restaurant between 9:00 and 10:30 a.m. with the corporate officers and representatives and remained there for approximately one and a half hours. Raymond drove the group back to the airport and returned to the restaurant around 1:00 p.m. Upon his return to the restaurant, Raymond went back to the kitchen to say hello to Barbara Risinger ("Risinger"), a prep trainer. Around 2:00 p.m., Raymond invited Risinger to join him for lunch at the restaurant. Raymond and Risinger were joined by two other prep trainers, Jeffrey Smock ("Smock") and Nancy Sarlouis ("Sarlouis"). Raymond ordered lunch, which was provided free of charge by the restaurant. During lunch, the four discussed how opening day was going as well as the performance of a Bob Evans restaurant in Decatur, Indiana. Raymond was happy with how the opening was going and indicated that Kathleen was very happy with the grand opening. Risinger testified that Raymond's health seemed normal and that he was upbeat. Approximately five to fifteen minutes after finishing his lunch, Raymond collapsed. He was talking when his hands slipped from the table to his lap; he made a "snoring noise"; and he fell back. Raymond was placed on the floor, and an employee called 911. A customer gave CPR until an officer arrived moments after the call. Douglas A. Young ("Young"), a Gibson County deputy sheriff, arrived on the scene and concluded that Raymond was choking. Young began performing abdominal thrusts, at which point Raymond became unconscious. The ambulance crew arrived and found Raymond unconscious and pulseless, his pupils dilated, and his skin pale, warm, and moist. Raymond went into cardiac arrest. The ambulance crew attempted to revive him but was unsuccessful.
The Smiths filed an application for adjustment of claim on February 11, 1998, which was amended to include Raymond's dependents on May 15, 1998. The Smiths contended that occupational stress contributed to Raymond's asphyxiation. In support of their argument, the Smiths presented the deposition testimony of Risinger that Raymond had had his "butt chewed out" by a superior a couple days prior to his death. The Smiths also relied on Dianne's deposition in which she testified that although Raymond handled stress well, he was under unusual stress at the time of his death, citing the grand opening and the fact that Raymond was preparing to fire an employee with a family. On August 29, 2000, the single hearing judge issued findings and conclusions in which he determined that Raymond's death was an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment. Specifically, the hearing judge found that Raymond's death was caused by an asphyxial event due to laryngospasm resulting from the aspiration of gastric content. The hearing judge further found that Raymond was under unusual stress and that such stress increased his risk of choking. On September 11, 2000, Bob Evans filed an application for review by the full Board. The Board held a hearing on January 22, 2001, and issued findings and conclusions reversing the hearing judge's decision on April 5, 2001. The Board concluded that although Raymond died of an asphyxial event, his injury was not a result of an increased risk related to his employment. Accordingly, the Board reversed the single hearing judge's award of compensation.
Did Raymond’s death arise out of his employment?
Here, the Board specifically found that Raymond's employment did not increase his risk of choking. The Smiths attempted to show an increased risk by alleging that Raymond was suffering from job-related stress when he choked. However, in considering the evidence most favorable to the Board's decision, the record reveals that Raymond was "very happy" with how the grand opening was going. He called his wife "to say things were going well." Further, supervising grand openings was part of Raymond's everyday job.
The Smiths rely on Travelers Ins. Co. v. Majersky, 531 S.W.2d 765 (Mo. Ct. App. 1975), in which a newspaper employee was directed to cover an awards banquet. In Travelers, the Industrial Commission specifically found that the stress and tension of the assignment contributed to the employee's death and that therefore his death arose out of his employment. In an attempt to bolster the persuasive value of Travelers, the Smiths point out that this court favorably cited the opinion in Indiana Michigan Power Co. v. Roush, 706 N.E.2d 1110. However, this court's reference to Travelers was limited to a footnote citation distinguishing the facts. Regardless, the facts before the court are not identical to those found in Travelers. Further, the employee in Travelers was directly performing duties on behalf of his employer at the time of his accident. Here, the Board specifically found that Raymond's employment did not pose an increased risk of choking. On the contrary, despite the fact that Raymond was in the restaurant overseeing the opening day activities, his lunch was not directly related to the performance of his job. Although Raymond dined with fellow employees, the lunch was not a required business meeting. The Smiths failed to demonstrate a causal relationship between Raymond's death and his employment. The mere fact that Raymond was in the course of his employment when the injury occurred is not sufficient to support an award of compensation.