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Buma v. Providence Corp.

Supreme Court of Nevada

December 12, 2019


          Appeal from a district court order denying a petition for judicial review in a workers' compensation matter. Second Judicial District Court, Washoe County; Barry L. Breslow, Judge.

          Diaz & Gait, LLC, and Charles C. Diaz, Reno, for Appellants.

          Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP and John P. Lavery and Lee E. Davis, Las Vegas, for Respondents.



          PICKERING, J.

         To receive workers' compensation under the Nevada Industrial Insurance Act (NIIA), an employee must show that an "injury arose out of and in the course of his or her employment." NRS 616C. 150(1). This rule generally requires that the injury happened at work and was due to the work itself or a condition of the workplace. This court has not addressed how these basic requirements apply to "traveling" employees-those whose employment entails travel away from the workplace.

         Under the NIIA, "Travel for which an employee receives wages shall, for the purposes of [the act], be deemed in the course of employment." NRS 616B.612{3). Consistent with this statute is the majority rule that traveling employees are in the course of employment continuously during their business trips, except during distinct departures on personal errands. Such an employee's injuries arising out of travel- or work-related risks- including those associated with meeting basic personal needs (like sleeping in hotels or eating in restaurants) and navigating hazards necessarily incidental to the travel or work-are usually compensable unless an exception applies. NRS 616B.612(3) codifies this majority rule.


         This case concerns a traveling employee, Jason Buma. He died in an all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) accident while on a required business trip for his employer, respondent Miller Heiman. Appellants Kaycean and Delaney Buma, Jason's wife and daughter, were denied workers' compensation death benefits, and the district court denied their petition for judicial review. We vacate and remand. We vacate the district court's order because the appeals officer failed to apply NRS 616B.612(3), and we remand for the appeals officer to reevaluate the matter under the correct standards.

         Respondent Miller Heiman employed Jason Buma full-time as a vice president of sales. In that capacity, Jason split his time working from home in Reno, Nevada, and traveling out-of-state on business. He had no local clients or contacts, and he did not work out of Miller Heiman's Reno office. Jason enjoyed considerable discretion in carrying out his duties. He worked irregular hours, starting his day as early as 6 a.m. and sometimes working as late as 10 p.m. He was constantly on call, taking business calls at any hour on weekends, on vacations, and even "while hiking." He made his own travel arrangements.

         Miller Heiman required Jason to travel on business, including annual trips to Houston, Texas, to attend an oil and gas conference. On these trips to Houston, Jason stayed with a local friend and independent affiliate of Miller Heiman, Michael O'Callaghan, who owned a ranch about a two-hour drive from Houston. Each year Jason and Michael attended the conference, Jason would stay at Michael's ranch, where he and Michael would prepare their joint presentations on Miller Heiman's behalf for the, conference. The two would travel to and from Houston to attend the conference, meet with clients, and give presentations on Miller Heiman's services.

         On his most recent trip, Jason flew from Reno to Houston on a Sunday and drove from the airport to Michael's ranch in the late afternoon. He and Michael had several joint presentations at the oil and gas conference to prepare for, with the first presentation scheduled for Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. Sometime after 5 p.m. on Sunday, Jason and Michael went on an ATV ride around the property, as they had on Jason's prior trips. While riding towards the end of a trail that led off the property, Jason rolled his ATV. He died at the scene.

         Kaycean and Delaney Buma filed a workers' compensation claim for death benefits. Respondent Gallagher Bassett Services, Inc., the third-party administrator of Miller Heiman's workers' compensation plan, investigated the incident and denied the claim. The Bumas appealed the decision administratively. The hearing officer affirmed Gallagher Bassett's determination that Jason's death occurred during an activity that was not' part of his work duties. The Bumas again appealed the decision, arguing that Jason traveled to the Houston area solely for the purpose of ...

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