Alabama Workers' Comp is an insurance program which offers medical benefits and wage replacement for employees who sustain a job-related injury. The determination of whether a reported injury is actually job-related can be tricky. Indeed, Alabama recognizes what is referred to as the "going and coming rule." Under this rule, accidents occurring while an employee is traveling on a public road, going to or coming from work, generally fall outside the course of the employment. An Alabama court recently addressed this rule and its applicability.
The Madison County case addressing an exception to the "going and coming rule"
In a recent case out of Madison County, Hospice Family Care v. Allen, one of the issues raised on appeal was whether the claims of the employee's spouse were barred by the coming and going rule. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals ruled that, the while the coming and going rule may have applied in the case, the facts fell within an exception to the rule, that being “when an employee, during his travel to and from work, is engaged in some duty for his employer that is in furtherance of the employer’s business.”
Allen's job duties as a day nurse
Part of the employee's responsibilities as a nurse included driving to patients’ homes, recording a voice message for the benefit of the night nurse, and entering billing codes and charting on each patient. The voice message, billing codes, and charting could be done from anywhere, and employees were actually encouraged to do so away from the workplace, using a laptop provided by the employer, as long as it was completed within 24 hours.
Allen's injuries fell within the exception to the rule
On the day in question, the Allen left her last patient’s home, stopped at the pharmacy to pick up a personal prescription, and then headed home. After leaving the pharmacy, she was involved in a car accident that resulted in her death. At the time of the accident she had not yet completed her billing entries, voice message or charting for that day. There was evidence that she typically came home after her last patient and worked several more hours. Indeed, the employer admitted that if a nurse arrived at home before the end of her shift she was still paid the same. Employees were also allowed to complete personal errands during their shift without requesting permission or leave.
The basis of the appellate court's decision
The Court of Appeals ruled that, at the time of the car accident, Allen was still acting in furtherance of her employer's business affairs. The court also ruled that the deviation to pick up the prescription was not significant and had ended at the time of the accident. Therefore, the accident arose out of and occurred in the course of her employment. Among the factors the court considered were the fact that Allen was required to be available until 4:40 p.m. and the accident happened before that time and the employer encouraged employees to do charting from home
or another location and actually discouraged employees returning to the office to do so. For these reasons, the court held that the employee’s trip home was in furtherance of the employer’s business, as she was still fulfilling her duties.
If you have any questions regarding worker's compensation or your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.