Williams v. Petromark – Worker Challenges Coming-and-Going Rule

It’s a long-held principle in workers’ compensation law that if you are injured on the commute to or from work, those injuries are not considered to be work-related, and therefore not eligible for benefits.
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However, our Greensboro workers’ compensation attorneys know there are often exceptions that can be made when the facts are conducive to proving the commute was in fact part of your job.

This was the sort of case before the Kansas Supreme Court in Williams v. Petromark Drilling, LLC. The justices were asked to decide whether the serious injuries sustained by an oil driller who was in a co-worker’s vehicle as they drove home was covered by workers’ compensation.

While it would seem on the surface the clear answer would be no, the court took into consideration a number of facts that resulted in the justices granting an approval of benefits for this injured worker.

The background here is that the worker was employed to work at various drill sites throughout the firm, most approximately 60 miles from his home. Each day, he would travel from his home to the home of his supervisor. From there, the two would take the boss’s personal vehicle from drill site to drill site. Then the worker would be brought back to his own vehicle and head home.

Sometimes, he would go through this routine with co-workers, which was what happened the day of the accident. He met with a worker who had just finished a full overnight shift, and was asked to fill in and complete a full day shift as well because the crew was short-handed.

The pair traveled to the various sites that day, and prior to leaving the last one, the plaintiff noticed two tires on his co-worker’s vehicle were low. The pair filled them and got on the road. However, it wasn’t long before they realized the rear tire was losing air. It was hissing and vibrating, so they were forced to pull over and pump more air into it.

After working a double shift, however, the co-worker was impatient. He hastily pumped the tire, but failed to fill it all the way. In fact, it was only about half full. The pair got back on the road.Less than two miles later, the tire blew out. The car flipped several times, and the plaintiff was severely injured.

He survived, and later filed a workers’ compensation claim.

The administrative law judge, however, ruled in favor of the employer, stating the crash didn’t arise out of the course of employment because the two had already left work for the day. He was a passenger in the vehicle, and the two were on their way home. He wasn’t being paid or compensated for any duties performed at that time. Further, he was not at the time of the crash traveling between drill sites. Rather, he was on the first leg of his commute home.

However, the board reversed that decision in a split 3-2 decision in favor of the plaintiff, finding the injury did arise out of his work. Specifically, the court found, “Travel was inherent to the job. When travel is inherent to or an integral part of the job, the (coming and going) rule does not apply.”

The coming-and-going rule is the principle we discussed earlier: If you are going to or coming from work and are injured, that injury is not compensable.

The case was then appealed to the state Court of Appeals, which reversed the board’s decision, reasoned the worker was not furthering the company’s interests at the time of the crash.

The case was finally appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court, which again reversed. The question was whether there was substantial competent evidence to support the board’s findings that the tire blowout happened during travel that was intrinsic to the worker’s job duties. The supreme court found this to be the case, and awarded him workers’ compensation benefits.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Williams v. Petromark Drilling, LLC, June 6, 2014, Kansas Suprem Court

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Top Risks for South Carolina Construction Workers This Summer, May 18, 2014, Greensboro Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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