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Case Bulletin: Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Rejects Employee’s Worker’s Compensation Claim Based on “Coming and Going” Rule

On May 17, 2018, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board’s dismissal of a claim filed by an electrical worker which arose after that worker was injured in a motor vehicle accident while driving to work.  Generally, the “coming and going” rule exempts employers from liability for injuries suffered by employees while commuting to or from work. This Decision represents an important distinction between “traveling employees” and employees who are simply injured while commuting to work, and reinforces the applicability of the “coming and going” rule to jobs that span multiple sites.

While an employer is not generally liable for injuries suffered by employees on their way to or from work, there are exceptions to this rule.  One exception that is particularly applicable in this case is where the claimant has no fixed job location.  Another exception is in instances where the employer controls the method and means of the employee’s travel and/or commute.  Even these exceptions require the claimant to bear the burden of proof to produce sufficient evidence to show how the claimant meets these narrow exceptions.

In this case, the claimant in this matter was employed by Power Contracting Company as a union electrical foreman.  Claimant testified that he was required to manage multiple projects simultaneously, and that he often traveled between job sites throughout the day.  On January 12, 2015, claimant was involved in a motor vehicle accident while driving between job sites.  The claimant sustained substantial injuries in this accident, and on April 13, 2015, the claimant filed a Claim Petition seeking workers’ compensation benefits based upon injuries that he suffered during the January accident.  In his petition the claimant asserted that, at the time of the injury, he was employed as a traveling employee, that travel was within the course and scope of his employment, or, alternatively, that he was on a special mission for the employer.  The Workers’ Compensation Judge initially found that the Claimant was not a travelling employee, that his travel was not within the course and scope of his employment, that employer did not control the claimant’s travel, and denied the claimant workers’ compensation benefits based on the “coming and going” rule.

The claimant appealed, claiming that his testimony during hearings in 2015 that he served as an electrical foreman and managed numerous different jobs simultaneously showed that he was required to move from one job to another throughout the workday.  The claimant also relied on the fact that he was provided a company truck, and that he used his truck while traveling between job sites to show that his travel was part of his job, and that the employer controlled the method and means of how the claimant traveled.  Claimant asserted that his testimony was sufficient evidence to permit him to meet an exemption to the general rule because he had no “fixed” job location.

In analyzing this case, the Commonwealth Court addressed the claimant’s contention that he had no fixed place of work.  The court found that while the claimant’s jobs may be limited in duration, the claimant is not automatically categorized as a traveling employee simply because he does not report for work at the same location every day.  The court found that the claimant worked at various job sites for the employer within the boundaries of a normal schedule until the work was completed.  The claimant’s regular reporting to these work sites constituted adequate support for the Workers’ Compensation Judge’s determination that the claimant had a fixed job location for purposes of the coming and going rule.

The court also addressed the claimant’s assertion that travel is included in his contract with the employer and therefore within the scope and course of his employment.  The Court determined that a travel-allowance, and company vehicle, do not meet the threshold required to show that the employer controlled the method and means of the claimant’s commute.  The court noted that the claimant must first prove that a travel allowance is related to the actual expense and time involved in claimant’s commute.  Claimant must then prove that the employer provided or controlled the means of the commute.  The court found that while the employer owned and provided the truck for claimant’s use, that the employer in no way controlled the means of claimant’s commute.  The claimant was free to commute as he saw fit, and while he used a company card to pay for gas, his actual wages did not include pay for travel.

Employees injured on their way to work often seek remedies within the workers’ compensation system.  However, there are various defenses to these claims that every employer should keep in mind.  Employees traveling to and from work are generally not eligible to receive workers’ compensation.  Travel between different job sites may still be considered travel to or from work.  Additionally, employees traveling outside of the course and scope of their employment may not be eligible to receive workers’ compensation.  Check back in the future for additional updates regarding changes to workers’ compensation law.