By now, those of you reading this blog know that in order for an injury to be compensable in South Dakota, the injury must arise out of and be in the course of the employment. Pretty straight forward, right?
Not so much.
While South Dakota adopts the “coming and going rule, establishing that an employee is not covered for purposes of workers’ compensation while coming from and going to work, the law has also established a ‘gray area’ regarding what is, and what is not. covered. Three seminole cases in South Dakota address this topic: Norton v. Deuel Sch. Dist. 2004 S.D 6; Fair v. Nash Finch Co., 2007 S.D. 16; and Terveen v. South Dakota Dept. of Transp. 2015 S.D. 10. These cases make it clear that a fact investigation into a workers’ compensation claim must include an analysis of minute details of the claim.
In Norton, the SD Supreme Court found that personal activities involving self-care, such as eating, resting, smoking, or using bathroom facilities should be considered in the course of employment. In Fair, the Court found that an employee’s deviation from work duties does not ‘automatically constitute departures from employment, but may … be found insubstantial.’” Fair was injured while she was exiting Family Thrift after a brief deviation from her usual direct route to her vehicle. The Court found that while it was reasonable to expect employees to exit the premises after work, it was also reasonable to expect Fair to engage in personal shopping after her shift had ended. Thus, the Court found that mere fact that an employee deviates from their work does not preclude a finding that the injuries are compensable.
Insubstantial deviations have been defined as those “largely the kind of momentary diversions which, if undertaken by an inside employee working under fixed time and place limitations, would be compensable under the personal comfort doctrine.” Arthur Larson, Larson Workers’ Compensation § 17.06 (2014). If someone engaged in an act for personal comfort, they do not leave the course of employment unless the extent of the departure is so great that an intent to abandon the job temporarily can be inferred. Id. at §21. In Terveen, the Court adopted the majority rule around the nation, finding that an employee who has made a personal side-trip has to ‘get back on the beam’ before being deemed to have resumed the business trip. Id. § 17.03. Additionally, the Court noted that the deviation cannot be substantial.
Now you are probably wondering, what information you need to find out during an investigation. Some information you need to know will include finding out what the employee was doing at the time of the injury; did the employer authorize, expressly or impliedly, that running personal errands was acceptable; was the employee on their typical route home, did they get lost, or, perhaps, were they stopping for food? These cases are very fact specific so be sure to take the time to gather all the facts you need to make a determination.
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