Arizona Court of Appeals Rules Against Plaintiff in Personal Injury Suit

An Arizona Appeals Court recently handed down what could be a precedent-setting verdict regarding a lawsuit filed against a man and his employer. The man had been traveling from a restaurant at the time of the incident.The Arizona Court of Appeals handed down a verdict recently that could be precedent-setting, analysts asserted.

According to a report from The Arizona Republic, one of the state's highest courts ruled this week on a case involving an employee of Gulf Interstate Engineering, a Houston-based energy consulting shop.

Ian Gray, who worked for the Texas-based firm, was involved in the design and subsequent construction of a natural gas compressor station during his work for the company. While working on the project, Gray, as well as some of his fellow colleagues, stayed at a hotel in Yuma. From there, they commuted roughly 10 to 15 miles each day, according to reports.

Gray flew to San Diego, California, in 2007, and allegedly used a personal credit to rent a car. He then drove across state lines to Yuma, where he was staying during his extended project. Gray used the car for both business and personal trips. One evening around 7:30 p.m. he was using the car, and subsequently returned to his hotel, where he changed and later went with a colleague to dinner at a restaurant in Yuma.

On the way back home from the restaurant to the hotel, however, the car Gray was operating was involved in a traffic accident with a motorcycle, according to reports. The operator of the motorcycle, Aaron Engler, filed a lawsuit following the incident, naming both Gray and Gulf as defendants.

According to Engler's argument, Gray was only in Yuma as a result of working for Gulf, charging his time in the city was "solely to serve the business purposes" of his employer.

His personal injury lawsuit was brought to court. Attorneys working for Gulf said the company was not culpable, though, because it was not responsible for Gray's activities at the time of the accident.

A trial judge agreed with the attorneys, but Engler's lawyer cited a ruling made in 2010 by a different state Court of Appeals in a separate case to bolster his client's defense. Last year, a separate court had ruled a Department of Public Safety officer on temporary assignment in Douglas was acting in the scope of his employment while on his way to and from a restaurant. According to that ruling, the employee, who had been eating a meal, was engaging in a "necessarily incidental" activity.

Nevertheless, the state Court of Appeals that heard Engler's case this week broke with that court's precedent, according to The Republic. The three-judge panel ultimately ruled that Gray was not at the time acting within the scope of his employment for Gulf.

"His need to eat dinner, whether at the hotel or a restaurant, was no more incidental to his employment than his need to eat dinner while not on an out-of-town assignment," Judge Lawrence Winthrop's ruling stated.

Judge Winthrop further said that Gulf was not responsible for paying for Gray's after-work activities, aside from reimbursing him for his expenses.