Posted On: March 30, 2012 by Stephen Bilkis

A female stenographer who worked for a transcribing company in New York City

A female stenographer who worked for a transcribing company in New York City was ordered by her employer to travel to Toronto, Canada to take down the minutes of depositions there. She went to Toronto with several employees. They stayed there for a few days and were going home to New York to type up the depositions before the New Year holiday on December 30, 1980. As the female stenographer was going to take a shower before leaving for the airport to board her return to New York City, she slipped and fell while stepping into the bathtub to take her shower.

She brought suit for compensation for the injury she sustained. The Workers’ Compensation law judge determined that the injury she sustained arose out of and in the course of her employment. The Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed this finding. The Board stated further that the stenographer would not have gone to Toronto were she not required to travel there on the business of her employer. She was directed to stay there for a length of time and that her status as employee continued while she was in Toronto. Her employer benefited from her work during her stay in Toronto and in fact, the employer contributed to her injury when he required her presence in Toronto where the accident took place.

The Appellate Division reversed the Workers’ Compensation Board finding and held that taking a shower is a purely personal act. Even if the employee were on a business trip out-of-town at the instance of her employer, she sustained the injury while doing a purely personal act which is not compensable.

The Workers’ Compensation Board appealed the reversal of the Appellate Division. The only question raised on appeal is whether or not the injury sustained by the trip and fall in the hotel bathtub by the employee while on business trip is compensable.

The Supreme Court opined that traditionally, employees are compensated when they sustain injuries while traveling in the business of his employer and while they employee was acting in furtherance of his employer’s business. But this rule has been expanded when the courts recognized that when the employer changes the environment of the employee, as when he is required to go out-of-town on the business of the employer, the employee is at greater risk of sustaining injuries.

The acts of dressing and taking a shower used to be regarded only as purely personal acts such that the employee cannot be compensated if he sustains injury while committing these purely personal acts. However, the Supreme Court has also ruled in other cases in the past that when employees slipped and fell in a hotel bathtub while preparing to return to their place of employment, the injuries they sustained even while acting in purely personal acts were found to be compensable. This is because the employer has increased their risk of injury by taking them to a place that is new and unfamiliar to them. The Supreme Court also cited cases where it has awarded compensation to employees who sustained injuries while dressing and bathing in the bathroom facility within the premises of the employer on the same basis that the employer’s facilities were a new environment that created greater risk of injury for the employer.

The Appeals Division should not have reversed the findings of the Workers’ Compensation Board as these are considered conclusive on the courts if supported by substantial evidence.
Thus, the Supreme Court applied the expanded theory of compensation to employees who sustain injury while doing purely personal acts when they are traveling on business of their employer. For this reason, the Appellate Division’s order reversing the Workers’ Compensation Board is reversed and set aside. The decision of the Workers’ Compensation Board is reinstated.

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