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No comp for canine road trip

If you are an employer who provides pet privileges at your workplace, be careful how you involve your employees with your animals.

Creating some distance between a pet and an employee can help protect an employer from a workers’ comp claim for a workplace injury linked to any animals in residence.

There was conflicting testimony in Reyes v. Rental Solutions LLC about Samy Reyes’ trip to Pittsburgh to pick up a dog for Gregory Berkshire, who co-owned Rental Solutions with Douglas Davitt. Reyes was on the payroll for Rental Solutions, but also did work for Berkshire’s business, Berkshire Excavating. Berkshire owned two adjacent lots. He lived on one and Rental Solutions was housed on the other lot, with a gated fence between the two.

Berkshire paid Reyes cash to fetch the dog on Dec. 5, 2009. Reyes regularly drove a truck Berkshire Excavating purportedly had sold to Rental Solutions, but there had been no title transfer. Reyes was driving the same truck on the dog run, when he was injured in an auto accident in Maryland.

Berkshire described himself as a dog hobbyist who used his beagles for field hunting trials and kept some animals as family pets. He had a kennel and dog pens on his residential property and said the dogs did not run loose on the Rental Solutions property and did not provide security for the business.

Berkshire said he did not think Reyes was “dog people,” so he directed him to just leave the Pittsburgh pick-up in its cage for the trip. Berkshire said his “one enjoyment in life” was feeding the dogs, so he didn’t think he ever asked Reyes to handle that chore.

Reyes countered testimony about his limited involvement with the dogs with his own assertion that the trip was undertaken on his employer’s order and was within the scope of his multiple job duties.

All things considered, the Workers’ Compensation Commission sided with the employer. It contrasted Reyes’ case to Prince William County School Board v. Fogarty, a 1999 case that allowed comp benefits for a claimant bitten by a school principal’s dog. The principal had ordered the employee to greet the dog.

The employer in Reyes persuaded the commission the Pittsburgh trip was voluntary, as Reyes was known for hustling for extra assignments, and had refused such trips in the past.

By Deborah Elkins

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