Court Denies Widow’s Benefits From Husband’s Death In Company Vehicle

Liz Carey

Lubbock, TX (WorkersCompensation.com) – A Texas appeals court has overruled a widow’s appeal for compensation in the death of her husband in a company vehicle.

The court found that merely being in a vehicle provided by a company does not guarantee workers’ compensation benefits, and that her husband, while allegedly on his way to see his employer, was not doing his job at the time.
The case revolves around the death of Bill Steen. In February 2015, Steen was working for Caprock Construction LLC, a dirt contracting company working in oil fields at the time. Steen was employed as a motor grader operator and was assigned a company truck for both business and personal use.

On February 23, Steen was traveling with his friend Dustin Hanson from Lubbock, TX to Greenwood, TX when their car skidded on the icy roads. Steen lost control of the vehicle; it overturned and left the road. Steen was killed and Hansen was injured.
Patricia Steen, Bill Steen’s widow, filed a workers’ compensation claim for Steen’s death citing his traveling to see his employer in a company owned vehicle. According to her, and testimony from Hansen, her husband was taking Hansen to meet with his boss about a possible job opportunity with the company.

The Texas Department of Insurance Division of Workers’ Compensation found, after a hearing, that Steen was not in the course of his employment at the time of his accident, and Texas Mutual, the workers’ compensation insurance provider for Caprock, denied the claim.

Patricia Steen appealed the decision which upheld the ruling. Steen then filed for a judicial review in district court. That judge also affirmed the department’s decision. Steen then appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals – Seventh District of Texas.

Steen argued that her husband was taking Hansen to see his employer for a possible job interview and therefore was working at the time of his accident. However, Chuck Dorrity, Caprock’s owner, said he was not aware that Steen was bringing Hansen to his office for an interview, and that because it was winter, there were no jobs available at that time.
The court ruled against Steen, agreeing with the lower court’s ruling that while her husband was in a company owned vehicle, he was not acting within the scope of his job. Steen’s job, the lower courts said, did not require him to find potential employees or to transport them to the company offices for interviews.

“The evidence supporting the trial court’s decision… is supported by more than a scintilla of evidence and is not so against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence to be manifestly unjust,” the appeals court wrote in its decision. “Mrs. Steen’s first and second issues are overruled.”
The court also overruled Steen’s request for legal fees.

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