2.20.2013

Workers’ Compensation: A Case of Non-Compensable Salmonella Poisoning

On February 4, 2013, the Third District Court of Appeals of Ohio decided the case of Serraino v. Fauster-Cameron, Inc., 2013-Ohio-329. Ms. Lindamarie Serraino worked as a medical technologist for Fauster-Cameron, Inc., dba Defiance Clinic, when she allegedly contracted salmonella poisoning from a contaminated lunch served in the Clinic’s break room in 2005. Ms. Serraino filed a workers’ compensation claim in 2007, and the Industrial Commission denied it administratively at all levels. She then filed an appeal into Common Pleas Court. At the trial court level, the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and the Clinic filed a joint motion for summary judgment, arguing that Serraino’s poisoning did not occur in the course of or arise out of her employment with the Clinic. The trial court granted this motion, and Ms. Serraino appealed.

In its review, the appeals court focused on the facts of this case. In 2004, the Clinic began a lunch program in which it periodically invited local caterers to sell their food to employees in the Clinic’s break room. The appeals court noted that the caterers, without guidance or assistance from the Clinic or its employees, set the menu, prepared and served the food, and collected payment from each patron. Additionally, anyone with access to the break room (including the general public) could purchase food from the caterers. Employee participation in the program was optional, and the Clinic did not receive any portion of the caterers’ sales.

With most workers’ compensation cases, the focus is normally on the location of where the injury occurred. However, in this case, the appeals court commented that the location was “purely fortuitous, as [Ms. Serraino] could have consumed the contaminated food anywhere on or off the employer’s premises.” Instead, the appeals court opted to focus on the activities that gave rise to Ms. Serraino’s injury. The appeals court held that the Clinic had no control or input over the food service provided to its employees by an independent third party and that there was an insufficient causal connection between Serraino’s salmonella poisoning and her employment with the Clinic. Thus, the trial court’s decision granting summary judgment was upheld.



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