Accident Timing Muddies Compensability
A worker for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission was driving to attend a mandatory training in another office when he was injured in a car accident.
On the day of the accident, the employer released several employees at noon so they could attend a 1:30 p.m. training. The worker was injured in an accident at 12:06 p.m. on a road that was a possible route to the training.
The worker’s supervisor said that her preferred route was different from the worker’s and used expressways. She said that this route was the quickest but was “pretty hectic.”
The supervisor stated that the normal lunch hour was from noon to 1 p.m. The lunch hour was uncompensated, and workers could leave the office during the lunch hour. Employees were not required to use their lunch hour to travel to the training. They were provided 30 minutes of compensated travel time before the training.
A supervisor also stated that employees would be entitled to seek mileage reimbursement for using a personal vehicle to travel to the other office to attend the training. The reimbursement amount was limited to the shortest distance.
The worker filed a workers’ compensation claim. The jury determined that the worker sustained a compensable injury in the course and scope of his employment. The trial court awarded the worker benefits. The State Office of Risk Management appealed.
Did the trial court properly determine that the worker’s claim was compensable?
- A. Yes. The worker’s travel to attend mandatory, work-related training furthered the employer’s business.
- B. No. The jurors could have inferred that the worker was on a distinct errand or departure because his lunch hour had just begun.
- C. No. The worker was “off the clock” at the time of the accident.
How the Court Ruled
B is incorrect. The court explained that evidence of travel on a possible route to the other office that was not described as “pretty hectic” allowed for a reasonable inference that the worker was traveling to the other office.
C is incorrect. The court explained that compensation is not included in the definition of scope of employment. Also, supervisors testified that there was no workplace prohibition on lunchtime travel to the other office. The court said that even if the jury should have considered compensation, there was evidence that the worker would be reimbursed for his travel.
A is correct. In State Office of Risk Management v. Pena, No. 13-16-00598-CV (Tex. Ct. App. 02/01/18), the Texas Court of Appeals held that the worker sustained a compensable injury while in the course and scope of his employment.
Texas law defined “course and scope of employment: as an activity that has to do with and originates in the work, business, trade, or profession of the employer and that is performed by an employee while engaged in or about the furtherance of the affairs or business of the employer. The court found that a reasonable fact finder could conclude that the worker’s travel originated in his employment because the training was mandatory.
The court also found that a reasonable fact finder could conclude that the work-related travel to attend mandatory training furthered the employer’s affairs. Therefore, the worker sustained a compensable injury in the course and scope of his employment.
Editor’s note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.