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Vol. 3, Iss. 14
October 6, 2014

UPS Says No Insurance For A Driver Being UPSet
When His Customer Is Sprayed With Bullets


Surely UPS has a ton of worker’s compensation claims on account of employing so many people doing physically demanding work. But the comp. claim at issue in United Parcel Service v. Prince, No. 6-14-2 (Va. Ct. App. Sept. 9, 2014) involved a different type of job-related injury – post-traumatic stress disorder, not to mention under very unusual circumstances. It seems to me that the decision to deny benefits in this situation, to a near twenty-year employee of the package delivery behemoth, was unduly harsh. A Virginia appeals court corrected that.

In 2013, Kirk Prince had been a UPS employee since 1995 and worked as a driver for the past twelve years. He had been making deliveries to Barbara Fassett’s home two to three times per week for ten years and had developed a good relationship with her. On an early evening in January 2013, Prince arrived at Ms. Fassett’s home to make a delivery. As he walked toward the house he noticed glass on the porch and saw a woman lying in the doorway. He moved closer to the woman and asked if she was okay. It was Ms. Fassett. She was not okay. She was dead – having been sprayed with bullets. Prince described Ms. Fassett’s face as having shrapnel and bullets in it and said it was “pretty much gone – it was all bloody.” He called it a “really really gruesome scene.” After witnessing the body for five or ten seconds, Prince called 911. He then vomited while waiting for the responders. He later learned that Ms. Fassett’s daughter was dead inside the home.

Mr. Prince sought treatment and was diagnosed with PTSD and sleep disturbance. He sought worker’s compensation benefits. A worker’s compensation commissioner denied benefits. The full Worker’s Compensation Commission reversed, “holding that the ‘sight of [claimant’s] murdered customer was so shocking, frightening, traumatic, catastrophic, and unexpected as to comprise a compensable injury by accident... .’” The Commission also noted that “[t]he events of January 7, 2013 were wholly outside the reasonable expectations of the claimant’s work day.... It was the claimant’s job to deliver packages. He did not volunteer or expect to find the murdered woman.”

The Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission’s decision, rejecting UPS’s argument that Mr. Prince’s “brief observation of Ms. Fassett’s body was insufficient to constitute a ‘sudden shock or fright’ so as to constitute a compensable injury by accident.” The court rejected UPS’s “brief observation” defense as follows: “Employer places great emphasis on the fact that claimant only looked at Ms. Fassett’s body for five to ten seconds before retreating and calling 911. We note that neither the Supreme Court nor this Court has developed a temporal component or standard for how long a claimant must witness a scene for it to constitute a sufficiently shocking or frightening event, and we decline to do so in this case. Regardless of the length of time claimant looked at Ms. Fassett’s face, it was long enough to determine that it was bloodied and ‘pretty much gone....’ Furthermore, claimant remained at the scene for approximately an hour after the police arrived and during that time was told that there was another dead body in the house. The entire incident, during which claimant remained in shock, crying, and vomiting, lasted over an hour.”

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