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March 09, 2011
When Is Traveling Home Covered by Workers’ Comp?

The Texas Supreme Court has clarified when an employee traveling for both business and personal purposes is covered by workers’ compensation. The court said that if the personal activity was traveling home, the travel was in the course of employment even if the employee would have made the same trip if there was not a business component to the trip.

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What happened. “Lana” worked as a sales representative and used her apartment as a home office. Her employer provided a self-storage unit adjacent to her apartment complex for samples and marketing materials. While driving from a meeting with clients to home, she intended to stop at the unit and empty her car of business supplies, but she ran off the highway and was seriously injured.

The employer’s workers’ compensation insurer denied Lana’s claim and the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission upheld the decision, concluding that she was not in the course and scope of employment at the time of her accident. Lana appealed and the trial court ruled in her favor. A divided court of appeals reversed.

What the court said. Under Texas Labor Code Sec. 401.011(12) “course and scope of employment” does not include transportation to and from the place of employment unless (1) the transportation is furnished as a part of the contract of employment or is paid for by the employer; (2) the means of the transportation are under the control of the employer; or (3) the employee is directed as part of his or her employment to proceed from one place to another place. An additional provision, referred to as the dual purpose rule, provides that travel that has a dual work and personal purpose is not in the course of employment if the employee would have made the trip for the personal reason alone.

The court of appeals noted that Lana was going home from the meeting and that even if she did not intend to stop at the storage unit she would have made the same trip. The court concluded that because the trip would have been made had there not been employer business to perform, Lana was not in the course and scope of her employment at the time of her injury.

The Supreme Court, however, looked at the situation from a different angle and determined that because Lana was on her way from an employer-sponsored meeting to an employer-provided storage facility, the trip was work-related and that the dual purpose rule did not apply. Leordeanu v. American Protection Insurance Company, No. 09-0330 (2010).

Point to remember. The court said that the dual purpose exception did not make sense in the context of a trip from work to home because such trips could never be work related under the rule. It does apply to other kinds of trips made for both business and personal reasons.

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