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Basket case: Worker left hanging after laundry-related injury

David Donovan//April 13, 2020

Basket case: Worker left hanging after laundry-related injury

David Donovan//April 13, 2020

Remember traveling? Getting dressed for work? Those were the days, but they weren’t without their risks, as Sidebar was reminded while reading a recent North Carolina Court of Appeals decision from the safety of his home office.

Jerry McSwain filed a workers’ comp claim after he injured himself slipping on a wet spot in a hotel lobby during a business trip. McSwain had been headed to retrieve a load of laundry he was doing when he slipped, but the state’s Industrial Commission denied his claim, finding that he’d “failed to prove a causal relationship between walking through the hotel to check on his laundry and his employment.”

McSwain appealed, and Judge Chris Dillon, writing for a unanimous court, sorted through loads of past cases to illustrate how downy-soft the line between a compensable and non-compensable injury can be for business travelers. Injuries suffered while traveling to a restaurant are generally compensable, but injuries suffered while choking on food at a restaurant generally aren’t—on the theory that business travel increases the risk of being injured while going out to eat, but not the risk of choking.

But unlike eating and sleeping, doing laundry isn’t always necessary for an off-duty, traveling employee, the court ruled. McSwain had presented no evidence that he needed a fresh set of clothes in order’s to further his employer’s business interests, and so his laundry run was simply a personal errand, and his argument that the claim was compensable didn’t pass the sniff test. But the logic implies that if McSwain had been washing clothes to wear for work the next day, the case might have unfolded differently.

In 2020 many of us now work in close, injury-minimizing proximity to our laundry machines, but someday things will return to normal, and future judges may cite to McSwain as business travel cases present new legal wrinkles that need to be ironed out.

Now if you’ll excuse Sidebar, it’s time to go move over another load of clothes.



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