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Deniece Abraham worked for Wells Fargo at its business support call center in Sacramento. She was part of a team of traveling bankers that went to Virginia to train new call center employees who had been hired to staff a business support call center in that state.

As part of the traveling banker training, Wells Fargo promoted the traveling banker position as an opportunity to network with colleagues from other branches and pursue leadership roles. A trip to Virginia was scheduled to occur between November 24, 2019, and November 27, 2019, with each day’s training sessions lasting from 7:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. After 3:00 p.m., the traveling bankers were considered to be on their own time and free to do whatever they wanted.

The trip was organized by a manager with Wells Fargo who arranged air travel, lodging, and rental car reservations. All of the traveling bankers from Sacramento were permitted to drive the rental cars reserved for the trip. Further, all the traveling bankers from Sacramento were included in a group text messaging conversation to communicate about the shared use of the rental cars so that everyone could efficiently travel to the training sessions, obtain dinner, or run errands. For the trip, Wells Fargo issued each traveling banker a “purchasing card” to pay for travel expenses and meals. The traveling bankers were prohibited from using the purchasing card to buy alcohol.

On the third day of the trip, November 26, 2019, the traveling bankers discussed plans for dinner that evening, including meeting with trainees and a supervisor from the Virginia office. After training ended for the day, the traveling bankers drank alcohol in the lobby of their hotel. Deniece Abraham and two of her colleagues went to dinner at a karaoke bar using one of the rental cars provided by Wells Fargo. They arrived at the karaoke bar around 8:00 p.m. There, they danced, drank alcohol, and ate chicken wings. Employees from the Virginia Wells Fargo branch arrived at the karaoke bar at approximately 10:00 p.m. and the group continued to dance, drink alcohol, and eat chicken wings.

Shortly after 1:30 a.m., Abraham and her two colleagues left the karaoke bar and used the rental car provided by Wells Fargo to drive back to their hotel room. Abraham was a passenger in the car. At approximately 2:00 a.m., the driver of the rental car crashed into a tree while exiting the freeway. Abraham died from her injuries.

Plaintiffs Diane and John Abraham sued Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and Sheonta Malbrough for the wrongful death of their daughter Deniece Abraham. Wells Fargo moved for summary judgment, asserting plaintiff’s suit was barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Specifically, Wells Fargo argued that, because Abraham was considered a commercial traveler at the time of her deat,her death was caused by a workplace injury that was exclusively compensable with workers’ compensation benefits.

The trial court agreed with Wells Fargo and granted the motion for summary judgment, ultimately leading to dismissal of the case. The Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal in the unpublished case of Abraham v. Wells Fargo Bank -C098233 (November 2023).

Under the “commercial traveler” rule, an employee traveling on the employer’s business is regarded as acting within the course of employment during the entire period of his, her, or their travel. (Wiseman v. Industrial Acc. Com. (1956) 46 Cal.2d 570, 572.) His or her acts in traveling, procuring food and shelter are all incidents of the employment, and where injuries are sustained during the course of such activities, the Workers’ Compensation Act applies.

The Court of Appeal concluded that “Here, Abraham was an employee of Wells Fargo traveling for the purpose of Wells Fargo’s business. During the business trip, Abraham went out for dinner and drinks with colleagues and then died on the way back to the hotel. These undisputed facts establish that Abraham was a commercial traveler at the time of her death, and thus her conduct of traveling and procuring food fell within the conditions of her employment.”