Proceeding in this Court
Benjamin T. Davis, Attorney for Petitioner
R. Sumsion and Cody G. Kesler, Attorneys for Respondents Air
Systems Inc. and Acuity, a Mutual Insurance Company
Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges David
N. Mortensen and Diana Hagen concurred.
A construction worker (Worker) employed by Air Systems, Inc.
(Air Systems) crashed a company truck while commuting to work
one morning, sustaining fatal injuries. His wife, Geneinne
Ellen Davis (Davis), filed a claim for workers'
compensation benefits. Subsequently, both an administrative
law judge (ALJ) and the Utah Labor Commission (the
Commission) denied Davis's claim, determining that at the
time of his death Worker was not acting in the course and
scope of his employment and that Davis was therefore not
entitled to workers' compensation benefits. Upon review,
we decline to disturb the Commission's determination.
Worker was employed by Air Systems to install air-
conditioning units and ductwork in various construction
projects in the Salt Lake City and Park City areas. Air
Systems allowed Worker to drive a pickup truck owned by Air
Systems back and forth each day from his home to the various
worksites, and Air Systems allowed Worker to choose the route
he took to the worksites each day. Air Systems paid the cost
of fuel for the truck as well as all maintenance costs.
Worker was sometimes accompanied by another Air Systems
employee while commuting to work, and would sometimes use the
truck to pick up materials and equipment from supply vendors
or from Air Systems' office on his way to the worksites.
Worker was not paid for the time he spent commuting to and
from work in the truck, but was paid for time spent picking
up materials and equipment.
On August 15, 2015, Worker left his home to commute to a
jobsite in Park City, where he had been working periodically
for several months. On that particular morning, Worker was
not accompanied by any other employees, did not stop at Air
Systems' office or any supply vendors, and was not
transporting company materials or equipment. Also, on that
particular morning, Worker chose to travel to Park City over
Guardsman Pass, a narrow high-mountain road, instead of using
the more conventional (and quicker) route up Parleys Canyon
on Interstate 80. While traveling over Guardsman Pass, the
truck went off the side of the road on a sharp curve and
rolled down a steep mountainside. Worker was ejected from the
truck and fatally injured.
Following Worker's death, Davis filed a claim with Air
Systems seeking compensation for Worker's funeral and
burial expenses. Air Systems responded by asserting that
Worker was not acting "in the course and scope of his
employment" at the time of the accident. Davis then
applied for a hearing with the ALJ, who agreed with Air
Systems and denied Davis's claim, determining that Worker
was not acting within the course and scope of his employment
at the time of the accident because, even though Worker was
driving a company truck, Worker was commuting to work. Davis
subsequently sought review with the Commission, which
affirmed the ALJ's decision. Davis now seeks judicial
review of the Commission's determination.
AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
Davis raises a single issue for our review: whether the
Commission erred in denying Davis's claim for
workers' compensation benefits related to Worker's
death. Whether the Commission correctly denied benefits is a
mixed question of law and fact. Jex v. Utah Labor
Comm'n, 2013 UT 40, ¶ 15, 306 P.3d 799.
"The standard of review we apply when reviewing a mixed
question can be either deferential or non-deferential, "
depending on whether the fact-finder is "in a superior
position" to decide the question than the appellate
court. Id. (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). In cases which turn on the
"fact-intensive" determination of whether to apply
the "going and coming" rule excluding employee
commutes from the course and scope of a worker's
employment, we apply the more deferential standard.
Id. ¶ 16. This is because, given the
case-by-case nature of the inquiry, such questions "do
not lend [themselves] easily to consistent resolution through
a uniform body of appellate precedent, " and because the
ALJ and the Commission "have firsthand exposure to the
evidence in such cases, " thus rendering their view of
the matter "superior" to ours. Id.
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
Under Utah law, when an employee dies in an accident
"arising out of and in the course of the employee's
employment, " compensation shall be paid for "loss
sustained on account of the . . . death, " including
"the amount of funeral expenses." Utah Code Ann.
§ 34A-2-401(1)(a), (b)(iii) (LexisNexis 2015). Our
legislature, however, has never defined "course of . . .
employment, " and therefore the term has come to be
defined in terms of judicially-created "rules and
exceptions that offer shorthand grounds for deeming various