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Monday Morning Case Bites for August 9, 2021

Last Week’s Court Rulings from the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, Court of Appeal and SCC.

Edited by Steven Graham

Jhaji v Fixturing Solutions Inc. and Matthew Strangis WCAT No. A1901477
Workers Compensation Appeal Tribunal

The Plaintiff claimed injuries resulting out of a motor vehicle accident on November 10, 2016. The Plaintiff’s vehicle was at a stop at a red light and struck by a company vehicle operated by the Defendant Strangis. Strangis, an Alberta resident, was in BC for work. After finishing a shift, the foreman was informed by their customer that a key was taken and needed to be returned. Strangis was instructed to return the key, and after doing so ran an errand to pick up some groceries. Strangis was returning from the grocery trip when he collided the company vehicle with the Plaintiff’s vehicle.

At issue in the application was whether the Defendant was a ‘worker’ at the time of the collision for the purpose of British Columbia’s Workers Compensation legislation.

The position of the Defendants was that Strangis was a worker when the collision occurred – he was returning the key for his employer, and his decision to pick up groceries was only a minor delay that did not even require him to go a different direction, and as such did not take him out of the course of his employment.

The tribunal considered the legislative definitions and concluded that Strangis was a ‘worker’ and FS Inc. was his employer. The tribunal then had to consider whether the injury arose “out of and in the course of” the worker’s employment, per s.134(1) Of the Act.

The tribunal noted that ‘employment’ is a broader concept than ‘work’, and includes more than productive work activity. The focus is on whether the worker’s employment was of causative significant in the occurrence of an injury, noted by the tribunal to be “more than a trivial or insignificant aspect”. Activities “reasonably incidental” to the obligations and expectations of employment would fall within the course of employment.

The tribunal referred to a Policy C3-14 for a non-exhaustive list of factors to be considered, though none could be considered as exclusive:

  1. Did the injury occur on the employer’s premises;
  2. Did the injury occur while the worker was doing something for the employer’s benefit;
  3. Did the injury occur in the course of actions taken in response to instructions from the employer? The clearer the direction, the more this factor favours coverage;
  4. Did the injury occur while the worker was using equipment or materials supplied by the employer;
  5. Did the injury occur during a time when the worker was receiving payment or other consideration from the employer;
  6. Did the injury occur during a time period for which the worker was being paid a salary or other consideration, such as during paid working hours;
  7. Was the injury caused by an activity of the employer or a fellow employee;
  8. Did the injury occur while the worker was performing activities that were part of his or her job;
  9. Did the injury occur while the worker was being supervised by the employer or a representative of the employer with supervisory authority?

The tribunal also noted that policy item C3-18.00 recognizes personal acts can be considered part of the course of employment:

…An incidental intrusion of personal activity into the process of employment is not a bar to compensation. Conversely, an incidental intrusion of some aspect of employment into the personal life of a worker at the moment of an injury or death does not automatically entitle the worker to compensation.

Policy item C3-19.00 regarding work related travel, generally, stipulates that injuries occurring in the course of travel from the worker’s home to the normal place of employment are not compensable, though there is an exception where travel is part of the employment:

[36] …If the worker has been instructed or otherwise directed by the employer, this factor may favour coverage if the worker has been directed to temporarily work at a place other than the regular or fixed place of employment.

The Plaintiff argued that the work-related aspect of the trip ended when Stransgis dropped off the key at the worksite, and that on his trip home he was either a ‘travelling employee’ or that his decision to stop for groceries was a major deviation taken for personal reasons, both of which removed him from the course of his employment.

After considering previous tribunal decisions, the tribunal concluded that the grocery shopping conducted by Strangis was an incidental or minor deviation from his employment, as it did not require Strangis to alter his path back to the rental accommodations provided by his employer (the grocery store was on his same route home). The tribunal noted that all of the objective circumstances supported a conclusion that Strangis was driving back to the rental house at the time of the accident, and accordingly concluded that he was engaged in work-related travel at the time of the accident. The tribunal determined Strangis was acting within the course of his employment.

The application was successfully argued on behalf of the Defendants by CBM’s Tom Schmit and Russell Mann.