This week Risk and Insurance Online recently highlighted a Florida personal injury case that may be of interest to all those in our area who have been involved in Florida car repossession injuries. The case, Sentry Insurance Co. v. Hamlin, involved a man injured while having his car repossessed. In Hamlin, the Florida District Court of Appeal held that when an employee in Florida is injured he is not entitled to benefits for those injuries when his car was towed out of his employer's lot during a repossession.
The Court justified their ruling by explaining that, in Florida, injuries are not compensable if the risk giving rise to the injury is personal in nature. Here, the risks were entirely personal and not related to the work the employee was doing.
In this case, a sales associate was busy working when he was informed by a supervisor that a tow truck had pulled up in the employer's lot and was near his vehicle. After hearing this, the employee went outside to investigate and, while there, spoke with the tow truck driver. The driver informed the employee that he had an order to repossess the employee's vehicle. The employee then called his bank who told him to remove what personal belongings he had from the vehicle as it was going to be repossessed. While the employee was collecting his things from the vehicle his body was hanging partially in the car and his feet were outside the vehicle, on the ground. While in this position, the driver of the tow truck decided to drive off with the vehicle. The employee was dragged and eventually run over by the tow truck, causing substantial injuries.
The employer initially paid the employee for the time he spent in the parking lot dealing with the tow truck driver, but did not pay benefits for his resulting injuries. The employee brought suit and the Florida District Court of Appeal found for the employer. The Court decided that the employee was not entitled to benefits because his injuries did not arise out of his employment.
The court examined whether the injuries arose from a risk incidental to work, explaining that mere presence at the workplace does not mean an injury arose out of employment. If employees are engaged in acts of personal comfort, breaks designed to refresh themselves before returning to work, this can be deemed work-related. Here the Court found that recovering property from a repossessed vehicle is not the type of activity associated with creating a "refreshed" employee. The employee was instead "carrying out a mission that was purely personal." Furthermore, the employee was also not acting in an emergency nor was there any evidence that he believed he was responding to an emergency. The employee admitted he was only in the car retrieving his personal items because the bank told him to, not due to an emergency or any work-related request.
Of course, this case dealt with a legal case brought against the employer in these situation, and not against the likely negligent tow truck driver and company. Legal rule are very much different depending on the actions of each specific defendant. These legal complexities make it imperative for all those involved in these accidents to visit a Florida car injury attorney to discuss your legal options. Though the Court has foreclosed the option of seeking damages from your employer if you were injured as a result of personal activities, a Florida car injury lawyer will be able to examine your specific case and determine what options are available to you.
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