What Do You Think: Could Pipeline Worker Hurt Returning to Jobsite from Visit Home Collect Benefits?

24 Mar, 2024 Chris Parker

                               

Bay Springs, MS (WorkersCompensation.com) -- A traveling employee may be entitled to compensation for an injury sustained on the road. But what if the employee travels home for a day or two, and gets into an accident on the way back to the worksite?

A case involving a gas pipeline worker tackles that issue. The employee traveled to different states to work on projects. One project was going on for months. Employees were not supposed to leave the motel where the company had lodged them unless they had permission.

On Wednesday, Feb. 18, there was a “rain-out day.” Work was called off and everyone stayed in the hotel, but employees could be called upon at some point to do other work. The employee, as he sometimes did, left without permission. He drove a company truck home, dropping off his two colleagues on the way. The next morning, he drove back early to make it before the start of the workday. He picked up his two colleagues and then got into a car accident.

The Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission denied him benefits on the basis that the injuries he sustained in the accident were not work-related. The employee appealed.

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The court explained that an injury that occurs during a period of distinct abandonment of the employer's business is not compensable. If a worker turns completely aside from his employer's business to engage in personal activities, he has deviated from the course of the employment.

Were the driver’s injuries work-related?
A. Yes. He was a traveling employee and he had picked up the other two workers prior to the accident.
B. No. He was on a purely personal mission when he was injured.

If you selected B, you agreed with the court in Rambo v. Kelly Natural Gas Pipelines, No. 2023-WC-00402-COA (Miss. Ct. App. 03/12/24), which held that the driver deviated from the course of employment to the extent that neither the accident nor resulting injuries were related to his job.

The court pointed out that the rule concerning the non-compensability of an injury incurred after an employee abandons his employer’s business applies to traveling employees as well as those with a fixed work site.

In finding the worker deviated from his employment, the court noted the following:

  • The company prohibited employees from leaving the motels without permission. 
  • There was testimony that all three employees left work on an unauthorized, purely personal mission. 
  • The employee did not leave the motel to do anything for his employer; in fact, he knew his employer had instructed the workers to stay at the motel. 
  • The deviation was not for a few hours; it was for more than a day. 

The court also found that the employee did not return to his employment duties prior to the accident just because he picked up his co-workers and started driving back to work.

“The entire trip was a personal mission. It is also illogical to say that when an employee leaves work without permission on a personal mission, he is not acting in the scope of his employment, but then say that when he chooses to return, he is,” the court wrote.

The court held that because of its personal nature, under these circumstances the employee’s return to work was not in the course and scope of his employment and the injury was not compensable.

The court affirmed the Commission’s decision.


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