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Injury While Travelling Home to Work Can be a Valid Workers’ Compensation Claim

March 14, 2020

By Michael Burns, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Last week the Michigan Appeals Court issued a published opinion ruling that an employee injured while travelling from home to work did have a valid workers’ compensation claim. Normally injuries incurred going to or coming from work are not compensable under Michigan Workers’ Compensation law. However, in the case of Smith v. Chrysler Group, LLC (No.339705) 2/25/2020the Court, in overruling the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission’s previous holding, found the circumstances surrounding the accident met one of the six legal exceptions to the disqualification rule.

Raymond Smith, the Claimant, worked for Chrysler as an auditor – an exempt position. As such he would drive to Chrysler plants and facilities to conduct audits of the company’s different business units. On the day of his accident he was travelling directly from his home to Chrysler’s Jefferson Avenue North Assembly Plant to conduct the audit scheduled to begin at 7:30 am. On the way to this site, with the company’s computer and all the necessary documents, he got in an auto accident that left him disabled. He applied for and was originally granted disability compensation benefits by the Workers’ Compensation magistrate. Chrysler appealed and the magistrate’s decision was overturned. Smith then appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Michigan Court of Appeals declined to hear. This decision was appealed in the Michigan Supreme Court which sent the case back to the Appeals Court to hear the case.

Though injuries incurred while travelling to and from work are not normally eligible for workers’ compensation benefits there are six exceptions to this general rule.

  1. If the employee is on a special mission as directed by the employer

  2. If the employer derives a special benefit from the employee’s activity at the time of injury

  3. If the employer paid for or furnished the employee’s transportation as part of the employment contract

  4. If the travel comprised a dual purpose combining the employment-related business needs with the personal activity of the employee

  5. If the employment subjected the employee to excessive exposure to traffic risks, OR

  6. If the travel took place as a result of a split-shift working schedule or employment requiring a similar irregular nonfixed working schedule  

The original decision handed down at the magistrate level was correct, but the Appeals Court found it had applied the wrong exception. The Claimants job required him to travel from business unit to business unit doing audits and therefore, contrary to what the magistrate held, this was not a special mission directed by the employer.

The Appeals Court made its decision for the Claimant based upon the simple fact that Chrysler paid mileage to Smith when he traveled to other locations.

The basis of this decision should give many employers pause to think about when they reimburse mileage for business trips. Employers should understand, particularly for jobs that involve regular travel and where mileage to the first or from the last job to home is paid. This decision brings any accidents causing injury in that situation into the realm of workers’ compensation. And if you think only your employee may be interested in this decision, think again.

As this case moved through the system the employee’s automobile insurer, Citizens Insurance Company of America, saw a big potential claim against it.  Getting a decision that paved the way to worker’s compensation benefits was a way to get out from under much of its possible disability claims liability.

For accidents to and from jobs that fall under one or more of the exceptions above, the employee’s auto insurance company and its resources will come to bare against the employers’ workers’ compensation insurer. Under this new decision your workers’ compensation carrier may want to review and challenge your company’s travel reimbursement policies. It could be that, or raise your rates. Employers may want to get ahead of this and have a talk with their workers’ compensation carrier representative to see what they advise.

Sources:

Raymond R. Smith and Citizens Insurance Company of American v. Chrysler Group, LLC. 2/25/2020) No. 339705

MISHRM – Accident on Way to Work Can Create a Valid Worker’s Comp Claim 4/4/2020 Claudia Orr Plunkett Cooney

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