In a recent decision, Autwell v. Back Yard Burgers, Inc., Tenn. Sup. Ct. (2015), the Supreme Court of Tennessee issued a ruling on issues in workers’ compensation law involving the going and coming rule as applied to the traveling employee and the special errand arising out of a car accident.
The case involved the employee Autwell, who worked as a district manager in overseeing several different branches of the employer’s business. On the day of the accident, the employee departed from his ex-wife’s home, to where he had recently helped her move, back to one of the employer’s locations in order to transfer the location to another individual. On the way, he swerved to hit a dog in the road, and his car went over the embankment, causing him to suffer significant injuries. Since he had conducted work at home prior to leaving, and he was en route to one of his employer’s locations, he claimed that the accident occurred during the course of his employment, and he filed a workers’ compensation claim.
The trial court found that the employee was entitled to compensation for his injuries, largely based upon the evidence concerning how much the employee was required to travel as a regular part of his work. The employer thus appealed.
The Supreme Court spent time discussing the going and coming rule, which precludes recovery for injuries that employees incur while going and coming from work during the course of a typical commute.
The two exceptions to the going and coming rule arise when the employee is considered to be a traveling employee, whereby he is required to travel often as part of the job, and the special errand rule, which applies when an employee is conducting a special task primarily for the benefit of the employer.
After this analysis, the court found that the employee did not fall within the traveling employee exception because the only reason he became involved in a car accident where he did was that he had taken a personal errand, to move his ex-wife, and was thus traveling to work from there. It found that engaging in various work-related tasks prior to the drive did not, therefore, equate the trip with arising out of the employment, because of the potential for nearly any small task related to employment to drag out the definition, and thus eradicate entirely the going and coming rule.
Regarding the employee’s argument that the accident fell within the special errand rule, the court found that his trip was not a special errand since he was traveling to one of his ordinary locations. Even though he was going to transfer over the branch, the location itself was one that he had been, and at that time technically was still, in charge of.
Therefore, the court found that the trial court was in error in granting the employee workers’ compensation benefits, and the order was reversed.
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