In January of 2008, Kurt Feiereisen was driving to attend a mediation meeting regarding his workers’ compensation claims when he was injured in a car accident. At the time, Feiereisen was pursuing three separate claims against Newpage Corporation for bodily injuries that he had sustained while working for the company during the years of 1987, 1997, and 2007. In June of 2008 he petitioned for compensation awards related to the injuries from all four occasions. Awards were granted for the three earliest injuries, but denied for the injury sustained during the 2008 car accident because this injury did not occur during the course of employment. Feiereisen appealed and the Law Court granted review, seeking to address the sole question of whether “the injury resulting from a car accident that occurred en route to a workers’ compensation mediation arose out of and in the course of employment.” The Law Court answered that question in the negative, affirming the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Board. Justice Gorman, writing for the majority, asserted that because Newpage had neither control over the risk of the car accident, nor responsibility over the automobile or the driving public at the time, it could not be held responsible for the injuries that Feiereisen sustained in the accident. There were dual rationales for arriving at this conclusion. First, the majority discussed the “public streets rule” and the exceptions thereto, and ultimately decided that Feiereisen’s injuries from the car accident were not covered by any exception to the rule. Next, the majority debated whether the mediation was in the “interests of the employer” and ultimately decided that because Feiereisen’s participation in the mediation was not in the interests of the company, it was not part of the employment contract. Justice Jabar was joined by Justice Alexander in dissent and they focused on a “significant [statutory] change in worker’s compensation law” and asserted that travel to the mediation meeting was “incident to employment.” The dissent further argued that the statute altered the impact of prior case law upon Feiereisen’s situation and indicated that attendance at mandatory mediation should fall within the scope of the employment contract. The dissent was reinforced by an exception to the public streets rule, under which it was claimed that Feiereisen’s car accident occurred during an “activity incident to employment.” This Note begins in Part II with a discussion of the history of workers’ compensation in Maine, with particular focus on the scope of the employment contract, and then goes on to discuss the treatment of the same subjects in other jurisdictions. In Part III, this Note evaluates the Feiereisen decision, with focus on how the Law Court determined the scope of employment under relevant legal principles, and how that determination affected the compensability of injuries that occur during travel to workers’ compensation mediation. Part IV provides an analysis of the public streets rule and the exceptions thereto, and discusses why the employment contract should not include travel to and from mandatory mediation. This Note, in Part V, concludes that the majority opinion used a sound approach to define the scope of the employment contract for the purposes of workers’ compensation claims and that an injury resulting from a car accident that occurred en route to a mediation meeting should not be compensable.
Benjamin R. Hutchinson,
It Has to End Somewhere: Feiereisen v. Newpage Corp. and the Scope of the Employment Contract,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol64/iss1/12