8/6/2014 8:38:00 AM,
Jeff D. Gorman
(CN) - A North Carolina man who was paralyzed in a car crash on the way back from his company's holiday lunch cannot collect workers' compensation, a state appeals court ruled.
John Graven Jr. worked for the North Carolina State Highway Patrol as a technical support analyst.
In December 2010, Graven's supervisor invited him and his co-workers to lunch at a restaurant "to celebrate the department's hard work."
Less than half of the invited employees attended the lunch. No awards were presented, and the invitees had to pay for their own meals.
Graven and co-worker Kathryn Wall rode to the meeting in a state-owned vehicle that had been signed out by another employee.
On the way back, the car hit a patch of ice and ran into a tree. Graven was paralyzed from the chest down, and Wall suffered a concussion.
Graven and Wall applied for workers' compensation, but their requests were denied. A deputy commissioner reversed the decision.
However, the North Carolina Industrial Commission denied Graven and Wall's benefit claims. A state patrol sergeant testified that the vehicle was not authorized to be taken to the holiday lunch.
Graven and Wall took the case to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which upheld the commission's decision.
Judge Chris Dillon ruled that the plaintiffs did not show that attending the lunch provided a benefit to their employer, citing the lack of awards and official speeches, other than "brief remarks" from the supervisors.
"Though the holiday lunch was not provided at Defendant's expense, Defendant did provide an occasion for the employees to participate in an outing which was a matter of good will in that, as the Commission determined, it was for the benefit of the employees and not defendant," he wrote.
Dillon also noted that the plaintiffs were not injured at the event, but on the return trip, despite the plaintiffs' argument that their employers added an "increased risk" by choosing a restaurant that was further than they could reach on their usual 30-minute lunch break.
"We believe, however, that the 'increased risk' analysis does not apply where an employee voluntarily attends a social event which, itself, does not arise out of his employment and is injured due to a risk that is common to the public while traveling on a public road to that event," Dillon wrote.