Employee Traveling from Jobsite to Court, Not Engaged in a “Special Mission”

WORKERS’ COMP UPDATES

Centurion Industries v. Naville-Saeger
2019 Ga. App. Lexis 568, Decided Oct. 17, 2019

The Court of Appeals reversed a trial court ruling that denied summary judgment to an Employer facing vicarious liability for a negligent homicide by an employee.

Jeremy Carter, a Valdosta resident, was employed as a millwright with Centurion Industries. Mr. Carter was a member of Centurion’s “travel crew,” which performed work in various states. In 2014, Carter signed a contract to work at a site in Arabi, Louisiana and the work was to commence in February 2015. Per the contract, Carter’s compensation included hourly pay, mileage reimbursement for travel to Arabi from Centurion’s Valdosta GA office, and per diem for each day on site.

Prior to February 2015, Mr. Carter obtained a leave of absence from Feb. 25th – Feb. 27th to attend court on a DUI matter. On February 25th, 2015, Carter began driving from the Arabi site to Georgia in his personal vehicle. While in Lowndes County Georgia, Carter attempted to pass a school bus and caused a head-on collision that killed two women. The victims’ next-of-kin brought suit against Centurion Industries under direct negligence theories and respondeat superior. The employer filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that Carter was not in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the collision. The trial court denied the motions; the Court of Appeals reversed.

When driving a personal vehicle to or from work, an employee is generally considered to be on her personal time, and not acting in the course and scope of employment. See Gassaway v. Precon Copr. 280 Ga. App. 351 (2006). An exception to that rule arises where the employee is on a “special mission.” A special mission occurs where “the employee, before or after customary working hours, is on his way home after performing or on his way to perform some special service or errand … in the interest of, or under the direction of, his employer.” Gasssaway, supra at 353.

In the present case, Plaintiffs argued that Carter was on a special mission at the time of the collision because 1) the Arabi contract as a whole was a special mission, 2) Carter’s court appearance would have led to the restoration of his driver’s license, which benefits Centurion, and 3) Carter intended to stop to purchase new work boots, a benefit to his Employer.

The Court of Appeals rejected all of Plaintiffs’ arguments. First, the Court held that the Arabi job could not be deemed a special mission itself because out-of-state work was not “special, or uncustomary” for this particular worker. As a member of the “road crew,” Carter routinely worked in various states. As such, a drive across state lines was customary to him, and not a unique mission ordered by his Employer. Regarding his license, the court found that even if the court appearance led to license restoration, and the same benefited Centurion, the Employer did not obligate Carter to attend court or purpose license reinstatement. It was Carter who sought the leave, and Carter was the primary beneficiary of the court “errand.” Finally, the Court held that even if Centurion instructed Carter to purchase new work boots1, Carter was free to decide when and how to obtain them. A worker cannot unilaterally create a special mission since the mission must be undertaken at the Employer’s request. Because Centurion did not order Carter to purchase work boots at a particular time, Carter’s intent to do so during his drive home could not create a special mission.

As Claimant’s worker’s compensation attorneys, we commonly assert the special mission doctrine to argue for compensability in off-premises injuries. This opinion reiterates the foundational principal that Employer responsibility rests on control over the employee. Where the Employer demands that the employee take an action for company benefit, at a specific place or time outside of the customary work hours, the Employer must also accept responsibility for the employee’s acts, omissions, and injuries. Where the Employer is an incidental beneficiary or the action is initiated by the employee herself, her acts, omissions, and injuries fall outside the course and scope of employment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alicia Mack is the owner of The Mack Law Firm, a boutique practice providing compassionate representation to injured workers. Ms. Mack is 2018 graduate of GTLA’s LEAD program and an active member of the GTLA, GAWL, and the GSU Law community. Ms. Mack may be reached at (770) 450-9599 or amack@attorneymack.com.


FOOTNOTES

1   Based on the lack of site, there seems to be no direct testimony in the record that a specific Centurion agent directed Carter to purchase new work boots; rather, the Court assumed that Carter did not decide to buy new boots on his own.

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