Coats & Clark's Sales Corp. v. Stewart

Decision Date08 March 1978
Docket NumberNo. 123,123
Citation383 A.2d 67,39 Md.App. 10
PartiesCOATS AND CLARK'S SALES CORPORATION et al. v. Barbara H. STEWART et al.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

B. Ford Davis, Baltimore, for appellants.

Herbert J. Arnold, Baltimore, with whom were Robert Earl Wilson and Arnold, Beauchemin & Huber, P. A., Baltimore, on the brief, for appellees.

Argued before DAVIDSON, MELVIN and WILNER, JJ.

DAVIDSON, Judge.

John A. Stewart died as a result of injuries received in an automobile accident. His widow, Barbara H. Stewart (wife), filed a "Dependent's Claim" with the Workmen's Compensation Commission (Commission), seeking benefits for herself, her deceased husband and their minor child (appellees). Benefits were denied because Mr. Stewart (husband) had not sustained an injury "arising out of and in the course of employment."

On appeal to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Judge Marvin J. Land reversed the order of the Commission and granted summary judgment in favor of the wife and child. He remanded the case to the Commission for a determination of "the issue of dependency." The appellants, Coats & Clark's Sales Corporation (employer), and Atlantic Mutual Insurance Company (insurer) appeal. Their sole contention is that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because there were two material disputes of fact.

The record before the Commission shows that on 22 September 1973, the husband, then District Manager for the employer, and his wife were to attend a dinner party to honor two other employees. Only past and present employees and their spouses were invited to the party, which was to begin at 6 p. m. at the home of an employee, and was to be paid for by the employer. The husband was to present a watch to one of the honored employees. At approximately 5 p. m., while driving an automobile provided by the employer, in which the wife was present, the husband was injured in a car accident and died.

I

The record shows that the wife testified before the Commission that at the time of the accident she and her husband were on their way from their home to the party. They intended to stop first at a grocery store, which was located on their route, to purchase nonperishable groceries. They intended then to proceed to the party without returning home. They never reached the grocery store.

Mr. Persina, an insurance adjuster who investigated the accident at the request of the insurer, 1 testified that he interviewed the wife shortly after the accident. She told him that, because there was no food at home for their child and baby sitter on the evening of the accident, she and her husband were "going to return home with these groceries, drop them off at the house, then go to the party." He conceded that a statement handwritten by him and signed by the wife at the time of the interview, did not indicate that the Stewarts were going to return home with the groceries. 2

Appellants first contend that there is a material factual dispute as to whether the Stewarts intended to return home with the groceries before going to the party. They assert that, if the Stewarts intended to return home from the grocery store before going to the party, at the time of the accident the Stewarts would have been on a self-contained trip undertaken for personal purposes, independent of and having no relation to the employer's party. They conclude that under such circumstances the husband's injuries would not be compensable because they would not have been sustained in the course of his employment.

Appellees contend that it is immaterial whether the Stewarts intended to return home with the groceries before going to the party. They maintain that obtaining food for the baby sitter was in furtherance of the business purpose of the employer. They conclude that, under these circumstances, even if the Stewarts at the time of the accident were on a self-contained trip to obtain food for the baby sitter, the husband's injuries would have been compensable because they would have been sustained in the course of his employment.

Under the Workmen's Compensation Act, an injury is compensable if it arises out of and in the course of employment. 3 Generally, an injury arises in the course of employment when it occurs within the period of employment at a place where the employee may be in the performance of his duties and while he is fulfilling those duties or engaged in doing something incident thereto. 4 Employment includes not only the actual physical labor but the whole period of time or sphere of activities. 5 Generally, an injury is not compensable if it occurs while an employee is going to or coming from work. 6 If an injury occurs, however, while an employee is traveling in order to perform a "special errand" or "special mission," it is compensable. 7 A special errand or special mission is a trip undertaken by the employee at the direction or request of an employer for the purpose of helping the employer's business. 8 Such special errands or missions may require a trip at a time other than the time the employee ordinarily goes to or comes from work and may require services outside the employee's regular duties. The essential characteristic of a special errand or mission is that it would not have been undertaken except for the obligation of employment. 9

The novel question to be decided here is whether an employee's self-contained trip to a grocery store, to obtain food for a baby sitter needed to enable him to attend a company-sponsored social event, is a special errand or mission. The Court of Appeals has held that certain company-sponsored social events are sufficiently work related to be incidents of employment, so that injuries which occur during such events are compensable. 10 Neither the Court of Appeals nor this Court has decided the question of whether an employee's trip to such a function constitutes a special errand or mission.

Courts in other jurisdictions which have considered the latter question have held such trips to be special errands or missions if the event itself was sufficiently work related to be an incident of employment. 11 Thus, if an injury which occurred during the event itself would have been compensable, an injury which occurred during the trip to or from the event would be compensable under the special errand or special mission exception. 12

At least two jurisdictions have considered the additional question of whether an employee's self-contained trip, distinct from a trip to or from a work-related social event, is an incident of employment and thus a special errand or mission. In Shell Oil Company v. Industrial Accident Commission, 13 an employee, employed as a service station manager, was driving to a company-sponsored dinner meeting in another town when his car became disabled. He left the car at a gas station and continued to and returned home from the dinner meeting using other transportation. Two days later, the employee was killed while attempting to tow the disabled vehicle to his service station. The California District Court of Appeal held the injury to be compensable. Recognizing that the employee's self-contained trip to retrieve his disabled vehicle was an integral component of his attendance at the dinner meeting, that Court said: 14

"The car broke down while Byrd was acting within the scope of his employment, a result which should have been anticipated by the employer. That he would return to get his vehicle and not simply abandon it, should likewise have been anticipated by his employer. Thus, by reason of the fortuitous circumstances which developed, Byrd had to return to get his vehicle and he was still performing a service which was directly connected to the original errand. Byrd's death while enroute from Stockton to Merced occurred in the course of his employment."

The specific question of whether an employee's self-contained trip undertaken to secure the services of a baby sitter needed to enable him to attend a work-related social event was itself an incident of employment and therefore a special errand or mission was considered in Harrison v. Stanton. 15 There an employee was injured while driving a baby sitter to her home after attending a work-related party. The Superior Court of New Jersey held the injury to be compensable, stating: 16

"Here the employer had previous knowledge that some of the social entertainments of the club were arranged for the members and their wives; he knew that the petitioner and his wife had an infant child too young to be left at home unattended; he was aware of the necessity in such instances of engaging the services of a baby sitter, for whose attendance he paid, and that the sitter resided elsewhere in the community. He had reason to anticipate that the petitioner and his wife would not return home from such evening functions until some late hour in the night. The employer entrusted his motor vehicle to the petitioner for his use on such occasions. It had been the custom of the petitioner to transport the sitter to and from her home whenever she was so engaged. And so the presence of the baby sitter at the petitioner's home appears to have been one of the conditions under which the petitioner was expected to execute the intent and purpose of his employer.

"We would surmise that some provision for the return of the sitter to her home when her services terminated at midnight or thereabouts would not only be reasonably necessary but perhaps exacted. Assuredly in this instance the transportation of the baby sitter was predominantly in furtherance of the petitioner's attendance at the party.

"In the light of the evidence we are led to the opinion that the reasonably appropriate activities of the petitioner in obtaining the presence of the baby sitter at his home was intrinsically a component of the mission of attending the ball which the petitioner was expected, if not directed, by his employer to fulfill and that but for the...

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  • Barnes v. Children's Hosp.
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1995
    ...since Reisinger-Siehler "). We, too, have articulated the special mission rule on several occasions. In Coats & Clark's Sales Corp. v. Stewart, 39 Md.App. 10, 13, 383 A.2d 67 (1978), we said: "A special errand or special mission is a trip undertaken by the employee at the request of an empl......
  • Calvo v. Montgomery Cnty.
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • May 21, 2018
    ...See Alford , 270 Md. at 363–64, 311 A.2d 412 ; Reisinger–Siehler , 165 Md. at 192–93, 167 A. 51 ; Coats & Clark's Sales Corp. v. Stewart , 39 Md. App. 10, 13, 383 A.2d 67 (1978) ; see also Huffman v. Koppers Co., Inc. , 94 Md. App. 180, 187, 616 A.2d 451 (1992) ("Employees feel obligated to......
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    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • June 3, 2002
    ...and social life." Id. at 618, 227 A.2d 33. Thus, Sica was entitled to compensation for his injury.10 In Coats & Clark's Sales Corp. v. Stewart, 39 Md.App. 10, 383 A.2d 67 (1978), we considered whether an employee's (Stewart's) injuries, sustained on a trip to the grocery store to purchase f......
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    ... ... Kennedy, 296 Md. 528, 537, 463 A.2d 850 (1983). Coats & Clark's Sales Corp. v. Stewart, 39 Md.App. 10, 16-17, 383 ... ...
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