Normally, plaintiff in Kelly v. Blue Ribbon Linen Supply Inc. wouldn’t have been driving for any work-related purpose. She worked at a fixed location at a retail store. She did travel to and from work, but of course, state workers’ compensation laws in Idaho (where this case unfolded), as in North and South Carolina, prohibit benefits for injuries that occur during the daily commute (known as the “coming-and-going” rule).
But in November of 2013, she was traveling 125 miles away from home at the request of her employer’s workers’ compensation insurer to undergo an independent medical exam. This request was made with the understanding that if she didn’t go, she would forfeit any right to workers’ compensation benefits for an earlier claim stemming from a foot injury caused when a shopping cart rolled over it.
An independent medical exam is often ordered by an employer’s insurance company to resolve questions about a claimant’s medical condition, including the degree of impairment. Claimant went to this exam. On her return, which involved no stops or detours, a sport utility vehicle traveling the opposite direction on the highway crossed the center line and struck her vehicle head-on. Nothing claimant did caused or even contributed to the crash. As a result of that impact, she suffered severe injuries to her lower extremities, and had to be placed in a skilled nursing facility for four months after the crash. Some of her injuries may be lifelong.
So the question before the Idaho Supreme Court in the Kelly case was whether the accident was work-related. The state workers’ compensation commission answered now. However, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed.
Only injuries and illnesses that arise out of employment or occurs in the course and scope of employment are compensable under state workers’ compensation laws. An injury occurs in the course of employment when it happens while a worker is carrying out a duty which he or she is employed to perform. An injury arises out of employment when there is a causal connection between the circumstances under which work must be performed and the injury.
The state workers’ compensation commission had concluded in this case, the actions of the driver who crossed the center line were “intervening,” and thus the injuries weren’t work-related.
Although most trips to the doctor wouldn’t be compensable for this worker, this situation was different. Here’s why:
- Purpose of worker’s trip was solely to attend the independent medical exam;
- Worker had no meaningful opportunity to reject the insurer’s request that she attend, as she was under statutory duty imposed by law;
- Failure to attend would have resulted in suspension of her right to obtain workers’ compensation.
This case, the court determined, is analogous to the special errand and traveling employee exceptions to the “coming-and-going” rule. The former holds that an employee leaving his or her normal place of work to perform a special job for an employer is still performing part of his normal job for workers’ compensation purposes. The latter involves a situation in which an employee’s work requires him to travel away from employer’s place of business or normal work location.
Here, worker was essentially required to travel away from her normal place of business (traveling employee section) and was directed by employer (through its insurance company) to attend this IME – with a doctor chosen by employer, at a location chosen by employer, at a time chosen by employer and for the sole benefit of the employer.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Kelly v. Blue Ribbon Linen Supply Inc. , Nov. 2, 2015, Idaho Supreme Court
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Report: Worker Killed in Demolition Project, Nov. 16, 2015, Winston-Salem Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog