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Williams v. Petromark Drilling – Coming-and-Going Rule Challenged

It’s been well-established in Georgia, as well as many other states, that if a worker is traveling to or leaving from work, and is injured in a motor vehicle accident, workers compensation benefits may not be collected.
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However, our Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers know there are always exceptions, which is why injured workers should never assume the outcome of their claim is a foregone conclusion.

In the case of Williams v. Petromark Drilling, LLC, the worker was injured in a car accident while on his way home from work. However, he was ultimately awarded workers’ compensation benefits after a great deal of back-and-forth, because, as the Kansas Supreme Court determined, the trip occurred while the claimant was “in the course and scope of his employment.”

To understand how the justices reached this conclusion, let’s explore the facts of the case more closely.

The plaintiff in this case worked for a drilling company, approximately 60 miles from his home. On his work days, he would travel to meet his supervisor and then he and his supervisor would drive in the supervisor’s personal vehicle to and from various drill sites.

The company reimbursed the supervisor for his mileage, but did not pay the claimant or other crew members for their travel time. The exception would be if the supervisor was unable to provide transportation, and the claimant or other crew members had to step in. On those occasions, they would be reimbursed for driving their personal vehicles.

On the day in question, the claimant, instead of riding to the work drill sites with his supervisor, road with a co-worker. That colleague had worked the night shift the evening prior, and then proceeded to stay on during the day to help out with the day shift, which was short-handed.

The supervisor did not direct the pair on which route they were supposed to take home.

Prior to leaving the drill site, the claimant noted two low tires on his colleague’s personal vehicle. The two worked to fill them. Despite this effort, the rear tire continued to lose air as the pair drove, and it began vibrating and making noise.

The colleague pulled over and used a small pump to add more air to the tire. As he was in a hurry, he did not bother to fill the tire to maximum fullness. He stopped pumping after approximately 10 minutes. After traveling about two miles further, the tire blew out. The car rolled numerous times.

The claimant was tossed from the vehicle and seriously injured.

When the injured worker filed a workers’ compensation claim, the administrative law judge sided in favor of the employer, finding that at the time of the accident, the worker was on his way home, he was not being paid for his work and the injuries did not arise out of the course of employment. The ALJ went on to say that travel was no more intrinsic to his work than any other commuter on the road.

That decision was reversed on appeal in a split 3-2 by the state’s workers’ compensation board. The board members reasoned that as an oil field crew member, traveling from drill site to drill site was a critical part of operations. Although he was not paid for traveling from the site to home or reimbursed for mileage, the nature of his work necessitated travel to ever-changing locations and travel was inherent to the occupation.

“When travel is inherent to or an integral part of a job,” the board indicated, “The going and coming rule does not apply.”

That finding was reversed by the Court of Appeals, which found the claim barred by the states going and coming rule and that the board had misapplied the facts.

The state supreme court, however, again reversed. Although the appellate court had correctly observed the facts, the high court found, it erred in treating those established facts as supporting only one finding as a matter of law. The court noted the claimant would not be employed were he unwilling to travel extensively to those sites, and given this fact, the crash arose out of the course of his employment.

For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.

Additional Resources:
Williams v. Petromark Drilling, LLC, June 6, 2014, Kansas Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Court: Post-Retirement Claim Stemming From Prior Work Injury Valid, May 30, 2014, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog