Work Comp Denied for Out-of-Town Workers Commuting to Job

Georgia workers' compensation provides benefits to workers accidentally injured in the course of their jobs. There must be a causal relationship between work duties and the injury. Issues can arise for traveling employees who need to commute to another town to reach a worksite or travel as part of their job duties.

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently held that injuries sustained during an auto accident that occurred while workers commuted to a job site were not covered by their employer's workers' compensation policy.

Travelling between towns

The construction workers lived in Savannah and commuted with several co-workers four hours to Columbus early each Monday morning to a church construction project. After the workweek was over the men returned to Savannah to spend the weekends at home. Their employer did not pay for the travel time, but did arrange and pay for lodging while the men were in Columbus.

As the men were riding to work on a Monday morning, their vehicle was in an accident and flipped. One of the men was killed and another suffered serious injuries. They were just a few minutes from their worksite when the accident occurred.

An administrative law judge denied workers' compensation benefits, because the injuries happened while the employees were on their way to work. The case was appealed to the appellate division of the State Board of Workers' Compensation, which agreed with the ALJ. The Georgia Court of Appeals also agreed with the ALJ that the injuries did not arise out of or in the course of employment.

Appellate Court decision

The court mentioned the general principle that accidents that happen when employees are commuting to work do not qualify for workers comp benefits. In this case, the workers were driving to the work site and had not yet started their workweek. In contrast, if the accident had happened after they started their work duties, they might have been covered under the continuous employment doctrine.

This continuous employment coverage applies to workers who are sent out overnight and are staying away from home for work. For instance, workers' comp was available in the specific case of an out-of-town worker killed at his motel during the middle of a workweek. That worker needed to be at the job site each weekday from 7:00 am until 5:30 pm, but his lodgings were located close enough so he could report to work in the mornings. Using the doctrine, the court reasoned that the injury arose out of and in the course of his employment.

The workers' compensation statutes along with case law analyzing the meaning of terms can seem an incomprehensible maze. If injured on the job, seek the counsel of a local workers' compensation attorney who can pinpoint possible hurdles to your claim. In some auto accidents, there may even be a separate negligence claim that could often go overlooked.