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State v. Desantis

Superior Court of Delaware

October 17, 2017

STATE OF DELAWARE, Employer/Appellant,
v.
MARK DESANTIS, Employee/Appellee.

          Submitted: September 8, 2017

         On Appeal from the Industrial Accident Board REVERSED and REMANDED

          Jessica L. Julian, Esquire, Benjamin K. Durstein, Esquire, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Attorneys for Appellant.

          Frederick S. Freibott, Esquire, The Freibott Law Firm, P.A., Attorney for Appellee.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Honorable Andrea L. Rocanelli, Judge.

         This is an appeal from a decision of the Industrial Accident Board ("Board") which awarded compensation for injuries sustained in an automobile accident while an employee was commuting home from work.

         Factual Background

         Mark DeSantis was employed as a Construction Manager for DelDOT and was responsible for the inspection, execution, and administration of the construction activities for DelDot's Paving and Rehabilitation Program. DeSantis had an office in Bear, Delaware. His core hours of employment were either 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. or 7:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. Nevertheless, DeSantis's position required him to visit various roadway construction sites for inspections. It was common for DeSantis to work overtime and visit roadway construction sites after his core hours because many roadway construction projects take place at night. When being compensated for overtime, DeSantis submitted a time sheet for hours spent at jobsites, but he was not compensated for any time commuting to or from his home, either during core hours or when working overtime. DeSantis had the option of using a State vehicle, but he was not permitted to drive the State vehicle to his home.

         After his core hours on October 16, 2014, DeSantis attended a professional association function for the American Society of Highway Engineers ("ASHE") in the evening. Attendance at the AHSE function was not part of DeSantis' employment responsibilities at DelDOT. DeSantis left the ASHE function at approximately 10:30 P.M. and drove to a construction site on Kirkwood Highway, where DeSantis had plans to meet with Robert Pierson, whose company had been retained by DelDOT to mill and pave a stretch of Kirkwood Highway, to address a "rideability" issue. When DeSantis arrived at the worksite, Pierson had already left for the evening. DeSantis stayed on site until approximately 11:30/11:45 P.M. and then left the jobsite to drive home. During his commute home, at approximately 12:03 A.M. on October 17, 2014, DeSantis was involved in a motor vehicle accident and suffered extensive injuries.

         Procedural Background

         DeSantis sought compensation for injuries he sustained in the motor vehicle accident that occurred on October 17, 2014 when DeSantis was commuting to his home from the jobsite. Pursuant to 19 Del. C. § 2301(B), the parties stipulated to having the matter decided by a hearing officer ("Hearing Officer"). The Hearing Officer issued the Board's decision on December 29, 2016 ("Board Decision"), concluding that DeSantis's injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment for the State of Delaware and were therefore compensable under 19 Del C. § 2304. The State appeals the Board Decision.

         Board Decision

         The Board stated that, under Spellman v. Christiana Care Health Services, [1]the inquiry must focus first on whether the employment contract at issue contemplates that the employee's activity at the time of the accident was work-related. The Board found that DelDot did not compensate DeSantis for commuting time. Nevertheless, the Board found that DeSantis could recover based on a finding that DeSantis was an employee with a semi-fixed place of business, which is an exception to the "going and coming" rule. In addition, the Board found in the alternative that DeSantis's injuries were compensable because his travel activity was "unusual, urgent or risky."[2]

         Standard of Review

         The Court has statutorily conferred jurisdiction over appeals from administrative agencies, including appeals from the Board.[3] On appeal from a Board decision, the Court's role is limited to determining whether the Board's conclusions are supported by substantial evidence and free from legal error.[4] Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."[5] The Court reviews the Board's legal determinations de novo, [6] ...


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