Long commutes are among the most commonly cited frustrations among workers, but they can also be among the most dangerous. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were a total of 6,755,841 passenger vehicle accidents, 73,930 bus accidents, and 10,024 rails accidents nationwide in 2019. Given that over 85% of Americans drive to work, that works out to quite a lot of commuting accidents. As a result, one of the most common questions about the workers’ compensation program is whether it covers accidents and injuries sustained commuting to and from work. As with the answer to most legal questions, it depends, as a Long Island commuter accident lawyer explains.
What Is a “Work-Related” Injury or Illness?
Workers’ compensation benefits are available to workers who have suffered a work-related injury or illness. A work-related injury or illness is “an event arising out of and in the course of employment, that results in personal injury to a worker,” according to the New York Workers’ Compensation Board. Some common examples of work-related injuries include slips and falls at the worker’s place of employment, injuries caused by machinery used in the course of the worker’s duties, and occupational illnesses and diseases. While work-related injuries do not necessarily have to occur on-site at the worker’s place of business to be compensable under the workers’ compensation program, they must nonetheless happen within the scope of the worker’s employment.
The Coming and Going Rule in New York
The “coming and going rule” of workers’ compensation excludes most commuting accidents from workers’ compensation coverage. This is because commuting to and from work is generally not considered to be a duty within the scope of the worker’s duties or arising out of his or her employment. There are several rationales for the application of this rule. First, employees are typically not “on the clock” while commuting, nor are they performing any job duties during that time. Second, employers do not maintain or assume control of premises beyond their own, so they cannot fairly be held liable for accidents that occur outside their domain. And third, the employer-employee relationship is generally considered to be suspended during the employee’s off-hours, including while commuting.
Exceptions to the Coming and Going Rule
The coming and going rule is not a blanket bar to compensation for injuries sustained while engaged in employment-related transportation. There are a few exceptions to the rule that may qualify a worker for workers’ compensation benefits. If you think that your situation may be covered under one of these exceptions, please contact a Long Island commuting injury attorney to discuss further.
The most logical exception to the coming and going rule is the traveling employees rule. Under this exception, employees who travel as a major component of their job duties (such as delivery drivers, truckers, general contractors, etc.) are eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured in the course of their travels. This exception also applies to employees who work in a fixed location but are asked to travel to another location, such as a different office or to the location of an off-site meeting. This type of travel is not considered to be a commute, as the worker’s employer is receiving a direct benefit from it.
Also known as the “special errands” exception, injuries sustained while on a special mission for your employer are generally compensable under the workers’ compensation program. A typical special mission scenario occurs when an employer asks her employee to run an errand for her while the employee is either going to or coming from work. While the employee is still technically commuting, he is also engaged in an activity for his employer’s benefit sufficient to transform the commute into a work-related duty. However, there is an exception to this exception in cases where the errand is insufficiently work-related. For example, if your employer asks you to stop on your way to work and pick up some office supplies, the exception likely would apply. However, if your employer asks you to stop at her house and let her dog out on your way in, the exception may not apply if the Workers’ Compensation Board determines that errand to be unreasonable or not work-related.
Injuries that occur in accidents where the employer furnishes the means of transportation, including in a company car driven by the employee, are sometimes compensable. It may also apply in cases where an employee is injured while driving a vehicle marked with the company’s logo, as the employee is providing the benefit of advertising to her employer. In other cases, it may apply if the employer assumes responsibility for transporting employees, such as by allowing employees to hitch rides to work in company-owned vehicles driven by other employees.
All time spent away on a business trip is generally considered to be within the scope of employment, including all travel time during the trip. For example, assume that you are on a business trip and you get into an accident while driving from your hotel to a conference center. Your injuries likely would qualify for workers’ compensation benefits because the accident occurred while you were on your way to conduct business on your trip.
Third-Party Claims for Commuting Accidents
Even if your accident does not fall within the scope of one of the exceptions to the coming and going rule, you may nevertheless be able to recover through a third-party claim. For example, assume that you are involved in a car accident while commuting to work and that your workers’ compensation claim is denied. You may still pursue a private personal injury action against the other driver who caused your injuries.
Contact a Long Island Commuting Accident Lawyer for More Information
If you were injured in an accident that occurred while you were commuting, you might still be able to collect workers’ compensation if your accident falls within an exception to the coming and going rule. To further discuss your situation, please contact a Long Island workers’ comp lawyer at Turley, Redmond, Rosasco & Rosasco by using our online form or calling 631-582-3700 (Ronkonkoma) or 631-399-0400 (Shirley/Riverhead).