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Court News Ohio

Ninth District: Spouse of Officer Running Union Steak Fry Entitled to Workers’ Comp Death Benefits

The family of an Elyria city police officer killed while on leave to run a union-sponsored steak fry is entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits even though he was killed while running an errand for the event, an Ohio appeals court ruled.

In a split decision, the Ninth District Court of Appeals affirmed this week that the widow and children of Bradley Scott are entitled to benefits. The appeals court upheld a summary judgment ruling granted by the Lorain County Common Pleas Court to Kimberly Scott-Ruffing and her children.

According to media reports, the city of Elyria contested the death benefits arising out of the August 2004 accident, because it was forced to pay a $250,000 deductible and other expenses if it lost. Scott-Ruffing received about $34,500 in death benefits before she remarried and became ineligible for any more. However, the children are to receive $331 per week until their 18th birthdays, or - until they graduate from college.

The city and the Elyria Patrolmen’s Association had a collective bargaining agreement that allotted 20 days per year for selected union members to take paid leave to perform union functions without having to use vacation days. Scott was on a supervisor-approved union leave, receiving his regular salary, when he was setting up and running the steak fry. While setting up, he and another volunteer, Detective Lisa Dietsche, noticed a storm approaching and made plans to pick up needed supplies for the event. The also intended to drop off Scott’s motorcycle at his house and then eat before returning to the steak fry. On the way to his house, Scott’s motorcycle was hit by a car that pulled out in front of him. Scott was thrown more than 40 feet, according to media reports. He died later that day in a hospital.

His widow filed with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation for death benefits, which the bureau approved. The city appealed the order to the Ohio Industrial Commission, which upheld the claim, and both Scott-Ruffing and the city filed appeals to the Lorain County Common Pleas Court. In 2013, the trial court sided with Scott-Ruffing and the city appealed to the Ninth District.

Writing for the appeals court, Judge Donna Carr wrote that to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, the accident has to occur “in the course of” the worker’s employment, and the injuries must “arise out of” the injured employee’s employment. Elyria contested the matter claiming Scott was not acting in the course and scope of his employment. Citing the Ohio Supreme Court’s 1990 Fisher v. Mayfield decision, the employee must meet both parts of the test to receive benefits, and the courts will look to the time, place, and circumstances of the injury to determine if it was in the course of duty.

She wrote that Scott was injured while performing duties as an officer of the union by setting up a steak fry regularly attended by union members, their families, and other members of the community. While Scott was on union leave, Judge Carr found that the city and union agreed to pay regular salaries to police officers to perform a limited amount of union duties. Although the injury did not occur at the steak fry itself, the travel to Scott’s home related to fulfilling his duties with the event, the appellate court concluded.

Judge Carr noted Scott’s duties were similar to that of a worker who sued for workers’ comp benefits after attending an employee picnic that was sponsored, supervised, and paid for by the employer. In Kohlmayer v. Keller, the Supreme Court in 1970 ruled that the purpose of the picnic was to generate friendly relations among employees and that activity was logically related to their employment. In Scott’s case, Judge Carr found the city benefitted from the improved employee and community relations, so Scott’s activities were fully in the course of his employment.

Regarding the requirement that Scott’s injury had to arise from his employment, the Ninth District found his situation similar to that of a teacher injured in the Fisher case. The teacher was collecting donations for an informal flower fund approved by the school district. Fisher traveled to a neighboring school, outside of the control of the school district, where she fell and was injured. The court found that while the school did not control her actions and it was not on school district grounds, the injury still arose out of her district employment, entitling her to benefits. In Scott’s case, Judge Carr wrote the city “was fully aware of the activity and acquiesced to its existence by approving union leave so employees could work the event.” Running for supplies was part of the event and the Ninth District found that was a sufficient connection to determine his death arose out of the course of his employment.

Judges Carla Moore concurred in the opinion.

Judge Jennifer Hensel dissented, arguing the accident did not occur while in the course of employment.

“Although the union’s contract with the city allowed Mr. Scott to use ‘union leave’ instead of his personal vacation time for his absence from duty, the fact that he had to use any form of leave strongly suggests that the steak fry was not ’a required duty in the employer’s service’ and had no more than incidental benefit to the city,” she wrote.

Elyria v. Scott, 2015-Ohio-4619
Civil Appeal from: Lorain County Common Pleas Court
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: Nov. 9, 2015

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