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An umbrella insurance policy that covers a company’s employees while “acting within their duties” should cover a worker who drove out of town on a weekend in search of a company cell phone he’d lost — even if he stopped for personal errands on the way home, the Superior Court has ruled. The three-judge panel on Tuesday affirmed a Lancaster County judge’s finding that an employee has a duty to search for company property that he has lost. “The fact that he did it on a Saturday does not mean that he was any less carrying out a duty of his employment,” Judge Richard B. Klein wrote for the panel in Leggett v. National Union Fire Insurance Co. “It is true that normally one is not acting within the course and scope of his employment commuting to and from work,” Klein continued. “However, the situation is different when one makes a separate trip on a normal day off to perform the obligation of finding lost property. This is more akin to going from one’s office to a job site than the regular commuting from home to the office.” The court also found that a workers’ compensation judge’s finding that the employee was not acting within the “course and scope of his employment” did not preclude the issue from being evaluated under the standards of contract law in Pennsylvania. On April 10, 1999, Jeffrey A. Leggett, 44, had driven from his home in Holtwood in southern Lancaster County to Reading — over an hour’s trip according to Mapquest.com. His two sons, ages 12 and 14, were with him after attending a Boy Scout event in the morning, according to the opinion. The Leggett boys helped their father, a construction safety inspector, search for the missing cell phone at a work site and a Taco Bell restaurant near the site for about an hour. Leggett then took his sons to a nearby Goodwill store and an Army/Navy store before leaving for home, according to the opinion. Klein noted that the stops were not planned. On the way home, Leggett’s vehicle crossed Route 222 into oncoming traffic and crashed into a car carrying members of the Snyder family, said Kent Mikus of Mikus Law Associates in Lancaster, who represented Leggett’s two sons with Chad Rankin, also of Mikus Law. Leggett and his 12-year-old son, Micah, were killed in the collision. Leggett’s 14-year-old son and four members of the Snyder family were injured, according to the opinion. Mikus represents Leggett’s sons in an underlying claim against Leggett’s estate that alleges the accident was Leggett’s fault because he crossed the lane line on the highway and lost control of the vehicle, Mikus said. The Snyder family is also a plaintiff in the underlying action, according to the opinion. Leggett’s employer, High Safety Consulting Services, had $1 million in basic coverage (which is not at issue in this case) and a $50 million umbrella policy for excess coverage, lawyers said. The insurance company, National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, said Leggett wasn’t covered under the umbrella policy because he wasn’t acting within his duties as an employee at the time of the accident, according to the opinion. “When he was returning home, he couldn’t have been acting in the interest of his employer,” said Eric A. Fitzgerald of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, who represented National Union. The Leggett boys and other plaintiffs filed a declaratory judgment action asking the court to rule on whether Leggett’s estate is eligible for coverage under the umbrella policy, according to the opinion. Lancaster County Common Pleas Judge Louis J. Farina concluded that Leggett was indeed acting within his duties at the time of the accident. The insurance company appealed. Klein noted that the policy does not define “duties,” and so the term should be understood in its ordinary, plain sense as a “legal or moral obligation” or “obligatory tasks, conduct, service or functions that arise from one’s position (as in life or in a group).” “National Union claims that the term ‘acting within their duties’ is synonymous with the term ‘course and scope of employment’ and as such the court is bound by prior case law defining that term,” Klein wrote. “We believe that if National Union wanted an exclusion defined under the term of art ‘within the course and scope of employment,’ they would have used the term ‘within the course and scope of employment’ rather than saying the insured had to be ‘acting within [his/her] duties.’” Therefore, Leggett’s trip fell within his “duties” of employment, Klein said. In its appeal to the Superior Court, the insurance company had asked the court to consider a workers’ compensation judge’s finding that Leggett wasn’t acting within the “course and scope of his employment” and whether that decision precluded the coverage issue under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, according to the opinion. Klein said the WCJ’s decision did not estop the issue because WCJs make their decisions under specific workers’ compensation standards, and the issue in the declaratory judgment action was one determining the commonsense interpretation of an insurance policy. Judges John T. Bender and Peter Paul Olszewski also participated in Tuesday’s decision. (Copies of the nine-page opinion in Leggett v. National Union Fire Insurance Co., PICS No. 04-0296, are available from The Legal Intelligencer . Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information. Some cases are not available until 1 p.m.)

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