Golf carts, bar hopping and Exclusive Remedy
Few of us have experienced bar hopping while "in the course and scope" of employment, but then again, we don't work for the restaurant chain Texas Roadhouse. The company sponsored its "Kitchen Managers' University" on the island of Put-in-Bay, Ohio. As part of the curriculum, the company encouraged employees to have a "kick ass time" - some university! Employees brought their own alcohol, drank the company's booze or visited the island's many bars. No cars were allowed: people got around in golf carts.
Which brings us to Meredith Sims and Tabitha Marren, two company employees who shared a cabin with a few other workers. After a round of drinking, they returned to the cabin, where their supervisor encouraged them to join him in another round. They hopped into their golf cart to follow the supervisor into town, with Marren at the wheel; she appeared sober, but in fact had consumed half a dozen beers and a shot. Marren and Sims lost track of their supervisor, and in an effort to locate him, Marren hopped a curb and flipped the cart. Sims suffered a broken ankle and facial cuts.
Texas Roadhouse, self-insured for workers comp, accepted Sims's claim and paid her full comp benefits. Sims later sued Marren, the cart company and the property owners for negligence; Marren responded that Sims was "in the course and scope" of employment, subject to comp's "exclusive remedy" provision and thus eligible only to collect comp.
A judge granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Sims's appeal reached an Ohio apellate court, where once again, the exclusive remedy provision of comp prevailed: having collected workers comp, Sims was precluded from suing her co-worker; her suit of third parties was also dismissed.
Thus Texas Roadhouse enjoys the protection of comp's exclusive remedy, while at the same time encouraging employees to engage in blatantly unsafe activities. Had Sims suffered more severe injuries - partial paralysis or worse - the exclusive remedy shield might have been pierced by the company's reckless behavior. "Kick ass" is no way to run a university, let alone a company. Let's hope Texas Roadhouse has permanently toned down the curriculum of its ersatz University.
Senior Workers' Comp Consultant