Injured While Driving to Work: Implications of Texas Workers Compensation Insurance

Each day, Texas residents drive to and from work, expecting to arrive safely. On many occasions, employers may provide either (1) company-owned transportation or (2) financial reimbursement for travel expenses using a private vehicle. Both situations would be in furtherance of the responsibilities of the job and are directly connected with the performance of the employment. 

But what happens when the commute goes wrong and there’s an accident? If you become injured, who will pay for your injuries and damages? Does your employer carry workers compensation insurance? If they do carry it, are you entitled to receive benefits from your employer’s workers compensation insurance carrier?

The answers to these questions are complex and fact intensive. Not all cases are the same and not all injuries are the same. An attorney who specializes in workers compensation law will be able to assist you at every step of your workers compensation case. 

The law in Texas under the Workers Compensation Act provides for employee compensation when injuries arise out of and in the course and scope of employment for which compensation is payable. For an injury to arise in the course and scope of employment it must: (1) relate to or originate in, and (2) occur in the furtherance of, the employer's business. Travel to and from work generally does not meet this test, unless the employee's travel was pursuant to express or implied conditions of his employment. The claimant has the burden to prove that he was injured in the course and scope of his employment. (TWCC APD No. 931006) Whether an injury occurred in the course and scope of employment is a fact question that must be determined by the hearing officer. (TWCC APD No. 971607)

A recent Texas case helped clarify these legal issues. In SeaBright Inc. Co. v. Lopez, an employee was assigned to work at a remote job site. The employer provided a company vehicle but did not pay for the employee’s travel time to and from the job site. One morning, the employee was killed while driving to work with two other employees. The decedent’s wife sought benefits from the employer’s workers compensation carrier, but the insurance carrier denied the claim for benefits because the insurance carrier believed the employee was not on the job (a.k.a., the course and scope of employment) at the time of the accident.

The court concluded that the employer's business called for employing specialized, non-local work crews in constantly changing, remote locations on temporary assignments. It required employees to obtain temporary housing and travel from that temporary housing to that temporary, remote location. Based on these facts, the court held that the plaintiff had conclusively established that her husband was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident and was entitled to benefits.

As mentioned above, not all cases are the same. But with the help from an attorney that is board certified in Texas workers compensation law, you will receive skilled and knowledgable representation. 

 

 

Injuries While Traveling To and From Work

Well, this blog has gone neglected for quite a while. Not by choice, but due to my health. A few months ago, I was driving to a continuing education seminar roughly five hours away. I was running late and so I never stopped for a snack or a beverage. Shortly after I arrived at the seminar, I noticed I had developed a minor cough. In the following weeks, that cough turned more serious and culminated in my being hospitalized for a week in critical condition with blood clots that nearly killed me. I am still on blood thinners which affect my energy level, but its time to have enough energy to work on this blog. And what better subject that to discuss the compensability of injuries occurring while driving to and from someplace for work. Yesterday, the Texas Supreme Court addressed this very issue in the case of Leordeanu vs. American Protection Insurance Company, 2010 WL 4910133. 

 

 Generally, an injury is compensable if it occurs while the employee is in the course and scope of employment. However, course and scope of employment does not include transportation to and from the place of employment unless the transportation is furnished by the employer, under the control of the employer, or the employer is directed by the employer to proceed from one place to another place. Also travel is not excluded from course and scope of employment merely because the travel also furthers the employee's personal interests that would not, alone, have caused her to make the trip.

In Leordeanu, a pharmaceutical salesperson, who officed out of her home, drove her company car to business appointments, then to a business dinner. On the way home she was in a serious car accident. The question was whether or not the car accident occurred in the course and scope of employment or was the travel excluded. The lower court ruled that while the travel was furnished by her employer, her travel home from her business appointments was purely personal and therefore not covered. The Supreme Court reversed the lower court by reasoning that such an analysis would cause coverage to exist only in cases where the employee is traveling to someplace and not returning. As a result, the Supreme Court clarified the law in this area which deals with legal doctrines known as the " coming and going rule" and the "dual purpose rule."

The Supreme Court clarified the Labor Code's enactment of these rules as follows: for the coming and going rule, the Supreme Court stated that this rule applies only to travel to and from the place of employment. The other, the Supreme Court said, applies to "other dual-purpose travel." In other words, Leordeanu was returning from a company appointment but it was still company business that caused her to be on the roadway. As such, it was compensable.

As for my issue of developing blood clots while attending a continuing education seminar, I didn't mention that it was also my mother's birthday and I had driven several hours out of the way to visit her. Aside from proving that the blood clots were caused by the drive, deviating from my route such as I did to visit my mother would take my travel out of the course and scope of employment.