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Danny Douglas v. Ad Astra Information

February 8, 2013

DANNY DOUGLAS,
CLAIMANT/APPELLEE,
v.
AD ASTRA INFORMATION SYSTEMS, L.L.C., RESPONDENT/APPELLANT, AND HARTFORD INSURANCE COMPANY, INSURANCE CARRIER/APPELLANT.



Appeal from Workers Compensation Board.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT 1. Statutory interpretation is a question of law over which appellate review is unlimited. The interpretation of a statute by an administrative agency is not binding upon the appellate court; the doctrine of operative construction is no longer applicable in Kansas. 2. When statutory language is plain and unambiguous, there is no need to resort to any rules of statutory construction. 3. A legal treatise may be utilized to explain and interpret Kansas law, but it cannot serve to supplant or alter the actual text of a statute. 4. K.S.A. 2006 Supp. 44-508(f) sets forth the circumstances under which injuries sustained by employees while engaged in recreational or social events will not be construed as arising out of and in the course of employment for purposes of workers compensation benefits. The circumstances that will exclude an employee's injuries from coverage under the Workers Compensation Act are where the employee was under no duty to attend the recreational or social event and where the injury did not result from the performance of tasks related to the employee's normal job duties or as specifically instructed to be performed by the employer.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Johnson, J.

Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in 42 Kan. App. 2d 441, 213 P.3d 764 (2009).

Judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the Workers Compensation Board is reversed. Judgment of the Workers Compensation Board is reversed and remanded to the Board with directions.

The opinion of the court was delivered by

Danny Douglas was awarded benefits under the Workers Compensation Act (Act) for an injury he sustained while operating a go-cart at an event sponsored by his employer, Ad Astra Information Systems, L.L.C. The employer and its insurance carrier, Hartford Insurance Company, (hereafter collectively referred to as Ad Astra) appealed the award, claiming that Douglas' injuries were not compensable under K.S.A. 2006 Supp. 44-508(f) because they were sustained during a recreational or social event that Douglas was not required to attend. The Court of Appeals, in a split decision, affirmed the Workers Compensation Board (Board), and we granted Ad Astra's petition for review. Concluding that the Board applied the incorrect legal standard, we reverse and remand this case to the Board for further proceedings in conformance with the plain language of K.S.A. 2006 Supp. 44-508(f).

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL OVERVIEW

At the time of his injuries, Douglas worked as a computer support analyst for Ad Astra, a software company in Overland Park, Kansas. His normal duties required him to answer questions and solve customers' problems regarding Ad Astra's software between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

On November 3, 2006, Douglas received an e-mail inviting him to attend a company-sponsored event that afternoon at Sadler's, a facility that contains games and a go-cart track. Ad Astra employees were given the option of either attending the event or remaining at work. Douglas and at least one other employee testified that they felt pressured to attend the event; only two or three employees remained at their normal work stations. Ad Astra had arranged the special event primarily to show its appreciation to its employees for their recent work at a client conference, but some of the employees viewed the event as a "team builder." The company had reserved exclusive use of the go-cart track and covered all of the event expenses, including food. Ad Astra deducted the cost of the event as a necessary business expense. Employees were paid their full wage while attending the event. An employee who had scheduled vacation that day was permitted to take the time off, but was required to count the time as vacation.

Upon arriving at Sadler's, the employees were directed to a room which had been reserved for them by Ad Astra and where food was provided for them. The company's owner, Tom Shaver, gave a short speech thanking the employees for their work on a recent conference and, according to Douglas, gave a brief pep talk about one of the company's upcoming products. The employees were then divided into teams and asked to compete for prizes. The teams with the fastest lap times around the go-cart track would win. Douglas stated that he would normally not race a go-cart but that he agreed to race because he wanted to be a part of his team.

Racing his go-cart in the team competition, Douglas encountered another go-cart stopped on the track, prompting him to sharply turn to avoid a collision while traveling at an estimated 20 to 30 miles an hour. Douglas crashed his go-cart into a tire wall and was thrown from the vehicle, landing on his right side. After the wreck, Douglas experienced pain and did not race again, although he remained at the event for the rest of the workday.

Later that night, Douglas sought medical treatment for the injuries he sustained in the wreck. He was subsequently diagnosed with multiple injuries, including a rib fracture; pulmonary contusions; reduced pulmonary function; and a lung injury that required surgery. A court-appointed physician ultimately concluded that Douglas sustained a 15 percent permanent impairment as the result of his injuries from the go-cart wreck.

Workers compensation evidentiary hearing

Before the administrative law judge (ALJ), Ad Astra denied that the accident was compensable because Douglas was engaged in a recreational or social event and was neither required to attend the event nor performing tasks related to his normal job duties. Douglas testified that he felt obligated to attend the event. He believed that it was designed for team building and that Ad Astra expected him to attend. Douglas also testified that he believed employees were not free to leave the event before 5 p.m. because the employees were told they would have to work at their normal duties if they did not attend the event.

Ad Astra's owners, Tom and Jackie Shaver, indicated that they intended the gathering at Sadler's to be a "thank you" to the employees and a fun event which was not mandatory. But Tom Shaver also stated that the event was intended to boost morale and increase enthusiasm towards the company and its products. Jackie Shaver testified that the e-mail invitations did not indicate that the Sadler's function was mandatory and that neither she nor her husband pressured employees to attend. ...


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