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Seabright Ins. Co. v. Lopez – Auto Accident in Course and Scope of Employment

Many people drive to and from work, but some are required to drive in the course and scope of employment.

Generally, those who drive during the work day for work purposes may be covered by workers’ compensation in the event of a serious crash. Meanwhile, those who are simply “coming and going” – i.e., commuting to and from work – are usually not covered.

The recent case of Seabright Ins. Co. v. Lopez highlights arguments that can arise between an employer/insurer and an injured employee/surviving family members in workers’ compensation claims following an auto accident.

According to court records, employee had worked for the oil and gas processing company eight years at the time of the accident. While he lived with his wife in one Texas city, he almost never actually worked in that city. He was assigned to work at various remote locations, and during these jobs, he usually made his own living arrangement, typically staying at a local motel. He was paid hourly, plus given a stipend for food and lodging when he stayed out-of-town. He was also given a company vehicle to get to and from different job locations, but he wasn’t paid for his travel time to and from job sites.

In 2007, he was assigned to work at a processing plant that was about 450 miles from his home. Although he was expected to stay in a hotel during the assignment, he had control over the location of that motel. He chose to stay at a place about 40 miles away. The firm allowed him to use a company vehicle to get to and from the motel and the job site. The company also paid for insurance on the vehicle and gave employee a credit card to pay for fuel.

He drove to the site every day, and often gave other workers a ride. The company didn’t have a carpool policy, but it was a common occurrence. On the day in question, employee was taking two other workers and himself to the job site when he was in an accident. Worker died from resulting injuries.

His wife sought workers’ compensation death benefits from the company’s insurer, but the insurer denied coverage. The insurance company reasoned the worker wasn’t acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the crash.

Decedent’s wife challenged this finding before a hearing officer, who took her side of the dispute. A three-member appeals panel affirmed, as did the trial court and the court of appeals. Finally, the case went before the Texas Supreme Court. Justices there too affirmed workers’ compensation death benefits for decedent’s widow.

The courts found that in order for an employee’s injury/death to be in the course/scope of employment, it has to relate to or originate in employer’s business and occur in furtherance of employer’s business.

The courts held the commute from provided housing to the work site in an employer-provided vehicle with employer-provided fuel with other employees would not have occurred but for his employment. Here, the relationship between travel and employment was close, and such travel always furthers the company’s business.

Remote location work, the court ruled, was an essential element here. While most employees commuting to and from work wouldn’t be covered, those whose remote work place is an essential part of the job may be treated differently.

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

Additional Resources:
Seabright Ins. Co. v. Lopez, June 12, 2015, Texas Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Report: Young, Immigrant Construction Workers at Small Firms at High Injury Risk, June 20, 2015, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog