SeaBright Ins. Co. v. Lopez – Workers’ Compensation for Auto Accident

It is possible for someone who is injured in a motor vehicle collision to receive workers’ compensation benefits if the vehicle was being driven in the course and scope of employment. accident2.jpg

Of course, where workers are professional drivers, the question of an accident being work-related is fairly simple. However, when a worker is commuting, the answer gets more complex.

Generally, courts in North Carolina and many other states abide by the “coming-and-going-rule.” This allows that workers who are “coming and going” to and from work are not protected under workers’ compensation provisions. The thinking goes that a worker who is coming to or leaving from work isn’t engaged in the business of the employer and therefore is not benefiting the employer and so accidents that occur in this context aren’t compensable.

But there are however exceptions. Among the most notable:

  • Premises exception. Coming from or going to work, but still on employer’s property.
  • Special errands. You are coming from or going to work, but acting in the course of employment with some official errand, duty or mission for the company.
  • Traveling salesman.Without a set time and place of employment, the job requires workers go from place to place in order to work.
  • Traveling employee. Work requires overnight trips, etc. to and from employer’s premises.
  • Contractual duty. Employer provides transportation and/or allowances to cover the cost of transportation.

In the case of SeaBright Ins. Co. v. Lopez, the Texas Supreme Court ruled an employer insurance company was wrong to deny workers’ compensation death benefits to an employee killed while driving to a remote location for work with several colleagues.

Even though he was driving to work, his death was deemed compensable.

According to court records, employee’s job required him to routinely stay overnight and sometimes for a full week at locations hundreds of miles from his home. The company reimbursed his living expenses and provided him with a vehicle and fuel allowances to get to and from these locations and from the hotel to job sites.

He often carpooled with other employees, which is what he was doing the day he was killed.

The company didn’t have any policy specifically related to carpooling, but it did allow the use of company vehicles so employees could get to and from remote job locations, and so many engaged in this practice.

However, when his widow sought to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for his death, the insurer denied the request, saying his death did not occur in the course and scope of employment.

Although he wasn’t paid for his time commuting to the job site, the other elements – the company’s paying for gas, providing an automobile and the fact that he was required to do this kind of traveling to benefit the company – meant the death was compensable, the state supreme court ruled.

That finding was an affirmation of findings from the hearing officer, trial court and appellate court.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
SeaBright Insurance Co. v. Lopez, June 12, 2015, Texas Suprem Court

More Blog Entries:
Common Carolina Workplace Injuries and Causes, June 28, 2015, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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