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Legal Trends

Going and Coming Rule Found Exempt in Workers’ Compensation Case

A Pennsylvania court calls into question the limitations on the going and coming rule.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 4 min read

The “going and coming” rule states that workers’ compensation benefits do not apply to injuries sustained while commuting to or from work, but that line in the sand can get a little blurred when the employee is driving a company-owned vehicle.

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Such was the case when Shawn Fields and Herman Strother, two employees of Carl G’s Total Cleanouts, transported debris from a job site to a scrapyard. While in transit, the men crashed. Strother was fine, but Fields was injured in the incident.

Fields filed for workers’ compensation, believing his injury occurred on the job. Carl G’s, however, did not see it that way. The demolition and excavation company said that because Fields was off the property at time of injury it was not liable for his comp coverage.

The case was brought before a workers’ compensation judge, who asked Fields to explain how his injury arose in the “course and scope of employment.”

Fields explained the scenario: He and Strother were working at the same job site for about three weeks. One day, when the crew finished up, they decided to take the company truck filled with waste materials and drop them off at a nearby scrapyard. Afterwards, Strother would drop Fields off at home and return the vehicle to the Carl G’s job site.

But instead, the men were involved in an accident. In his argument, Fields said he was an exception to the going and coming rule; he was working for Carl G’s at the time of the accident and injury.

The judge looked to his predecessors. In previous rulings of similar nature, the court found the going and coming rule applied to when there was a fixed place of work. Fields, the judge ruled, had a fixed place of work — Carl G’s crew had been at the same location for three weeks. The judge determined the going and coming rule applied because it was a fixed location, and Carl G’s was not responsible for workers’ comp coverage.

Fields appealed.

The “going and coming” rule states that workers’ compensation benefits do not apply to injuries sustained while commuting to or from work, but that line in the sand can get a little blurred when the employee is driving a company-owned vehicle.

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania looked at the judge’s ruling, re-examining the “course and scope” clause.

“The WCJ concluded that Claimant had failed to demonstrate that the injury occurred in the course and scope of employment because Claimant was commuting home from work at the time of the accident,” the court said. “The WCJ … focused the inquiry on whether Claimant’s place of work was fixed because of the ad hoc nature of his employment.”

The court reviewed Pennsylvania’s exceptions to the going and coming rule, particularly the one in which an employee would receive benefits if they were acting under the company.

Fields was, in this case, traveling to and from a scrapyard for work. His injuries stemmed from part of his job duties and not from a personal commute home, the court decided.

“Based on the facts found by the WCJ and the supporting evidence, there is substantial evidence to support the legal conclusion that Claimant was furthering the business of Employer when he was injured,” it concluded.

Carl G’s was responsible to pay workers’ comp benefits to Fields.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are several exceptions to the going and coming rule that most states acknowledge and turn to when the rule is up for debate.

When an employee is using a company vehicle to commute to or from a location, then the going and coming rule doesn’t apply. In Fields’s appeal, the court looked to this exception when it overturned the workers’ comp judge’s ruling.

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Other exceptions include:

If an employee’s job description requires them to be on the road. An example would be someone working in the postal service or cross-country as a truck driver.

If an employee is traveling between multiple job sites. An example would be a computer technician driving from one office building to the next. This does not include the worker’s commute to and from work each day, but instead looks at time spent on the road during a shift.

If an employee is traveling commercially. An example would be a person traveling on a business trip. Typically, the entire time spent away from the office — from beginning of travel to journey’s end — is covered under workers’ comp policies for most businesses.

If an employee is sent out on a special errand. An example would be an employee being asked to grab the manager a cup of coffee from a local shop or pick up lunch for the team.

Knowing the exceptions can better prepare employees and employers on duties that can be performed under the going and coming rule.

To read the full court opinion on Fields’s case, see Shawn Fields vs. Workers Compensation Appeal Board.

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Black Swans

Black Swans: Yes, It Can Happen Here

In this year's Black Swan coverage, we focus on two events: An Atlantic mega-tsunami which would wipe out the East Coast and a killer global pandemic.
By: | July 30, 2018 • 2 min read

One of the most difficult phrases to digest without becoming frustrated or judgmental is the oft-repeated, “I never thought that could happen here.”

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Most painfully, we hear it time and time again in the aftermath of the mass school shootings that terrorize this country. Shocked parents and neighbors, viewing the carnage, voice that they can’t believe this happened in their neighborhood.

Not to be mean, but why couldn’t it happen in your neighborhood?

So it is with Black Swans, a phrase describing unforeseen events, made famous by the former trader and acerbic critic of academia Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

We at Risk & Insurance® define these events in insurance terms by saying that they are highly infrequent, yet could cause massive damages. This year, for our annual Black Swan issue, we present two very different scenarios, both of which would leave mass devastation in their wake.

A Mega-Tsunami Is Coming; Can the East Coast Even Prepare?, written by staff writer Autumn Heisler, profiles an Atlantic mega-tsunami, which would wipe out lives and commerce along the East Coast.

On the topic of whether the volcanic island of La Palma, the most northwestern of the Canary Islands, could erupt, split and trigger an Atlantic mega-tsunami, scientists are divided.

Researchers Steven Ward, a geophysicist at UC Santa Cruz, and Simon Day of University College London, say such a thing could happen. Other scientists say Day and Ward are dead wrong; it’s an impossibility.

One of the counter-arguments is backed up by the statement that there has never been an Atlantic mega-tsunami. It’s never happened before and thus, could never happen here. See exhibit “A” above, re: mass school shootings.

Viral Fear: How a Global Pandemic Kills an Economy, written by associate editor Katie Dwyer, depicts a killer global pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a century.

Tens of millions of people died during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918.

Why it could happen again includes the fact that it’s happened before. The science on influenzas, which are constantly mutating, also supports just how dangerous a threat they pose to millions of people beyond the reach of antibiotics.

Should a mutating avian flu, for example, spread widely, we could see a 10 percent drop in GDP, mostly from non-physical business interruption.

As always here, the purpose is to do exactly what insurance modelers and underwriters do; no matter how massive the event, we create scenarios, quantify possible losses and discuss risk mitigation strategies. &

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]