Thousands of workers are seriously injured annually in motor vehicle accidents. As a result, there are often questions that arise with regard to whether that worker is entitled to workers’ compensation coverage or whether he or she would be better served pursuing a personal injury claim under general negligence law.The answer often depends on whether the employee was actually working at the time of the crash or whether he was traveling to or from work. And, in fact, a third-party liability claim may allow an attorney to both pursue a workers’ comp claim and a personal injury lawsuit for negligence against parties other than an employer.
Georgia case law, and specifically the 1968 decision in Corbin v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, holds that injuries sustained by a worker who is coming from or traveling to his job are not compensable under the state’s workers’ compensation program. In the Corbin case, the employee was leaving the work site to go home when he was injured in a crash on an access road owned by the city. The employee had been working on a city project at the time. However, the court determined that because the worker was on his way home, the injury did not happen in the course of his employment and so his claim was denied.
However, that case did give way to exceptions to this rule. Those include:
- Where an employer has provided transportation to the worker as an incident of employment;
- Where the employee is carrying out an act required or permitted by the worker and beneficial to the employer while traveling to and from work;
- When the employee is traveling to or from parking facilities provided by the employer;
- Where the employee is on-call and given transportation by the employer or reimbursed for transportation costs;
- Where the employee is traveling from one employment location to another.
Still, situations like this are far from straightforward, as illustrated in the case of The Venture-Newberg Perini Stone v. IL Workers’ Compensation Commission, recently reviewed by the Illinois Supreme Court. Although it’s an out-of-state case, many of the same issues are applicable.
In this case, a lack of work prompted a union worker to take a position 200 miles from home. With the long hours (12 hours daily, 7 days a week) and distance, he and a fellow worker decided to stay at a local motel for the duration of the job. On their second morning of work, the man’s co-worker was driving his pick-up on their way in to work when he lost control of the vehicle. The passenger worker suffered serious injuries as a result and sought workers’ compensation benefits.
The worker would later testify that it was his understanding that his employer wanted everyone to be within an hour’s drive of the work site so that they could be available as needed. However, this was not an explicit requirement. Other employees testified that the company obtained a benefit by having workers geographically close, as emergency labor needs often arose. The company did not, however, tell workers where to stay or direct them on which route to take. Workers were not reimbursed for their travel time or compensated for travel expenses.
An arbitrator for the case concluded the worker failed to prove his injuries occurred in the course of his employment and further that the worker did not qualify for the traveling employee exception.
That decision was later reversed by the state’s workers’ compensation commission, which found the crash happened during travel that was determined by the demands and exigencies of the job, as opposed to his personal preference.
However, the circuit court, providing administrative review, set aside that decision and sided with the original decision by the arbitrator, saying the commission had misconstrued and misapplied state law.
The state supreme court later affirmed this interpretation of the law.
If you or a loved one has been injured on the job in Atlanta, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., to speak with an experienced attorney. For a free consultation call 1-404-920-4708 today.