KIM M. JENSEN-LINNEL, Employee/Appellant, v. ISD #831 FOREST LAKE and SFM MUT. INS. CO., Employer-Insurer, and LIBERTY LIFE ASSURANCE CO., KARI CLINIC OF CHIROPRACTIC, FAIRVIEW HEALTH SERVS., ST. CROIX ORTHOPAEDICS, PAR, INC., and ABBOTT N.W. HOSP., Intervenors.
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
APRIL 29, 2011
ARISING OUT OF & IN THE COURSE OF. Where the employee parked her school bus near her home during a brief break, a practice that had been approved by her supervisor, and where she exited the school bus, walked alongside the bus, slipped and fell on an icy surface near the bus, and broke her arm, the compensation judge’s determination that the employee’s injury did not arise out of and in the course and scope of her employment with the employer is not consistent with the law, and is therefore reversed.
Determined by: Rykken, J., Johnson, J., and Pederson, J.
Compensation Judge: Jennifer Patterson
Attorneys: Bradley H. Ratgen and Van Holston, Ratgen Personal Injury Law Firm, St. Paul, MN, for the Appellant. Mark S. Lorentzen, Lynn, Scharfenberg & Assocs., Minneapolis, MN, for the Respondents.
MIRIAM P. RYKKEN, Judge
The employee appeals the compensation judge’s finding that her slip and fall injury did not arise out of and in the course of her employment. We reverse.
The primary dispute on appeal is whether the employee’s injury, sustained on January 19, 2010, arose out of and in the course of her employment as a school bus driver. On that date, Kim Jensen-Linnel, the employee, was injured while working as a bus driver for Independent School District No. 831, the employer, in Forest Lake, Minnesota. By that time, the employee had worked as a bus driver for approximately eight years, and worked a split shift. Her shift began around 6:00 a.m. when she would punch in on the time clock at the bus garage, then perform a pre-trip check of her bus, add fuel, and otherwise prepare her bus for driving that day. She then drove a route for junior and senior high students, took a 15 to 20 minute break, drove a route for elementary students, and then returned to the bus garage around 9:30 a.m. to punch out and return home for several hours. In the afternoon, the employee returned to the bus garage to punch in on the time clock, drive the two afternoon routes, and return to the bus garage to punch out for the day.
The drivers were paid for their 15 to 20 minute break in the morning, but not for the several hours off between their morning and afternoon routes. If the first route in the morning was delayed by weather or other reasons, the bus drivers would not take their typical morning break. Due to the school schedule times, once the bus drivers started the afternoon portion of their routes, they had no break between their two afternoon routes.
The bus drivers were allowed to take their paid morning break at the bus garage or at other nearby locations such as shopping centers, restaurants, or coffee shops. The drivers were allowed to drive their busses to these locations. The drivers were also allowed to run errands or to return home during this break. The employee usually drove her bus home for her break since she lived three blocks away from the bus garage; she requested and was granted approval by her supervisor for this practice. In addition, two other bus drivers regularly joined her at her home to converse during their break. The employee’s supervisor testified by deposition that the employee had permission to drive her bus to her home during her break, and also that the employee could use her break for completing paperwork, cleaning snow off her bus, and using the restroom at her house. (Employee’s Ex. I, pp. 14-15.)
On January 19, 2010, the employee drove home for her morning break. She parked her bus on the street in front of her home. She then set the emergency brake, checked the bus, set up an “empty” sign, and exited the bus. The employee walked around the front of the bus on the road and slipped on ice in the road. She fell on her left side, breaking her left humerus. The employee called the employer’s dispatcher who in turn sent another bus driver to finish her routes. The employee was taken by ambulance for treatment at an emergency room and underwent orthopedic surgery on her left arm that day. The employee was released for work with restrictions on May 7, 2010, but those restrictions prevented her from returning to her bus driving position at that point. The employee began physical therapy for her left arm in mid-May 2010. Although the employee was restricted from her driving position in May 2010, she was able to return to work at a restaurant position she had held during the past 16 summers.
On February 3, 2010, the employee filed a claim petition for temporary total disability benefits and medical expenses related to her left arm injury. The employer and its insurer, SFM Mutual Insurance Company, filed an answer on February 22, 2010, denying the employee’s claims on grounds that the employee’s injury did not arise out of and in the course of her work for the employer.
An evidentiary hearing was held on August 6, 2010. At that hearing, the parties stipulated as to the employee’s weekly wage, and also stipulated that if the employee’s injury were to be determined to be work related, the employer and insurer would pay temporary total disability benefits from January 19 through May 6, 2010, medical expenses, and rehabilitation expenses. The parties also stipulated that any additional Roraff or Heaton attorney fee claim would be reserved until after a final determination had been reached. The issues addressed at hearing included whether the employee’s January 19, 2010, injury arose out of and in the course of her work for the employer and, if so, whether the employee was entitled to temporary partial disability benefits from May 7 through 14, 2010.
In her findings and order, served and filed October 12, 2010, the compensation judge found that the employee’s injury in January 2010 injury did not arise out of and in the course of her work for the employer. The compensation judge also found that if the employee had proven she sustained a work-related injury, she then would have been entitled to temporary partial disability benefits for the claimed dates. The employee appeals.
To be compensable under the workers’ compensation statute, an injury must arise “out of and in the course of employment” while an employee is “engaged in, on, or about the premises where the employee’s services require the employee’s presence as a part of such service at the time of the injury and during the hours of such service.” Minn. Stat. § 176.011, subd. 16. The phrase “in the course of” refers to the time, place, and circumstances of the injury; “arising out of” connotes a causal connection between the injury and the employment. Gibberd v. Control Data Corp., 424 N.W.2d 776, 780, 40 W.C.D. 1040, 1047 (Minn. 1988); see also Lange v. Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro. Airport Comm’n., 257 Minn. 54, 99 N.W.2d 915, 21 W.C.D. 61 (1959). The requisite causal connection “exists if the employment, by reason of its nature, obligations or incidents may reasonably be found to be the source of the injury-producing hazard.” Nelson v. City of St. Paul, 249 Minn. 53, 55, 81 N.W.2d 272, 275, 19 W.C.D. 120, 123 (1957). No comprehensive definition fits all cases addressing whether an injury arises out of and in the course of employment, and each case stands on its own facts. See Gibberd, 424 N.W.2d at 780, 40 W.C.D. at 1047. Whether an injury arose out of and in the course of employment is generally a fact question for the compensation judge. Franze v. National Delivery Serv., 49 W.C.D. 148, 155 (W.C.C.A. 1993).
The compensation judge found that the employee’s injury did not arise out of and in the course of her employment, relying on Raymond v. Osseo Brooklyn Sch. Bus Co., 463 N.W.2d 510, 43 W.C.D. 582 (Minn. 1990). In Raymond, an injury sustained by a school bus driver who worked a split shift, while she exited her parked school bus at her home between shifts, was found not to arise out of and in the course of the employee’s work for the employer. In that case, the employee was allowed to drive the bus to her home for a long unpaid break between the split shifts.
The employee argues that the analysis in Raymond does not apply to her situation, and that her actions were reasonable and not a substantial deviation from her work. It is “well established that acts of an employee necessary to life, comfort, convenience while at work, although personal to him and not technically acts of service, are incidental to the service, and injury arising while in the performance of such acts is compensable.” Hill v. Terrazzo Machine & Supply Co., 279 Minn. 428, 433, 157 N.W.2d 374, 377, 24 W.C.D. 511, 517 (1968) (citations omitted). The personal benefit rule provides that an employee does not abandon employment when temporarily acting to advance his or her personal comfort. Williams v. Hoyt Constr. Co., 306 Minn. 59, 70, 237 N.W.2d 339, 346, 28 W.C.D. 101, 112 (1975); Wilkinson v. Ford Motor Co., slip op. (W.C.C.A. Aug. 31, 1992) (injury which occurred on the employer's premises during the employee's work shift while he was attending to personal needs during his designated break time was within the “personal comfort doctrine” and therefore compensable).
[W]here the conduct from which the injuries arose was such as reasonably might be expected, and since it was not expressly forbidden, it was not such a departure from the course of service or the performance of his duties as to deprive him of the benefits of the compensation act.
Hill, 279 Minn. at 433, 157 N.W.2d at 377-78, 24 W.C.D. at 518. The application of this rule is limited to situations involving slight deviations from work which are reasonable under the circumstances. Id.; Kaletha v. Hall Mercantile Co., 157 Minn. 290, 294, 196 N.W. 261, 262, 2 W.C.D. 100, 102-03 (1923).
In this case, the employee’s injury occurred while she was on a short paid break from her bus routes. The employee was allowed to take this break at her home and occasionally completed paperwork or socialized with other drivers during the break. Sometimes she left the bus to enter her home for brief personal business. The employee’s supervisor testified, by deposition, that he considered the employee on the clock at the time of the injury; he also agreed that it was acceptable for the employee to go into her home during the morning break to use the restroom. The employee could have taken her break at any coffee shop, restaurant, or store in the area since she was not required to return to the bus garage. The employee’s situation is similar to Anderson v. Cloquet Transit, 40 W.C.D. 101, 104 (W.C.C.A. 1987), where an injury which occurred when a school bus driver entered a coffee shop to join other employees and supervisors while waiting for bus to warm up was found to arise out of and in the course of her employment. Compare Rodriguez v. Metropolitan Transit Comm’n, slip op. (W.C.C.A. Oct. 16, 1992) (deviation not reasonable where injury incurred during a violation of an enforced company policy prohibiting a driver from stopping en route for personal purposes).
In other cases involving the issue of whether an injury arose out of and in the course of employment, this court has observed, “when a line is drawn, there are always cases very close to each side of the line. No absolute rule can be derived, since there are too many factual variables that could affect the result.” Bohlin v. St. Louis County/Nopeming Nursing Home, 61 W.C.D. 69, 81 (W.C.C.A. 2000) (citation omitted). We note that this case could be considered as being close to the line, but we also conclude that the employee’s activity remained reasonably incidental to her employment. While the employee was not on the employer’s premises at the time of her injury, her injury occurred during her usual hours of service on a paid personal break at a location specifically approved by her employer, and we conclude that the employee’s injury arose out of and in the course of her employment. The decision of the compensation judge is therefore reversed.
 For 16 years before her injury, the employee worked for a local restaurant from May through September. For approximately 8 years before her injury, she also worked during the entire school year, so those jobs overlapped at the beginning and the end of each school year.
 See Roraff v. State, Dep’t of Transp., 288 N.W.2d 15, 32 W.C.D. 297 (Minn. 1980) and Heaton v. J.E. Fryer & Co., 36 W.C.D. 316 (W.C.C.A. 1983).
 The employee’s supervisor testified that bus drivers needed “to stay within a common sense geographical area,” locally, during the 15-20 minute break. (Employee’s Ex. I, p. 11.) The supervisor also stated that he allowed the employee to take her break at home because “it wouldn’t have been any different for her to do that than it would have been for her to drive in the middle of town and go to McDonald’s.” (Id. at 14.)