Salesman's family can't recover for fatal accident during commute

Generally if you’re hurt in an accident commuting to or from work, you can’t receive worker’s compensation benefits. That’s because of the “coming and going” rule which says such accidents don’t occur “in the course of employment.”

This rule has exceptions, of course. For example, many states have a “contractual duty” exception, which means the coming-and-going rule doesn’t apply if the employee’s contract entitles him or her to the use of a company vehicle for work-related travel. Similarly, the “traveling salesperson” exception applies in many states where the employee has no fixed hours or location and is making a journey on the employer’s behalf.

A recent case in North Carolina, however, shows that there’s a lot of grey area and even when on the surface it looks like an accident falls under the exception, that may not be the case.

In that case, the employee in question worked as an estimator for a security company. His job duties entailed visiting client sites to prepare estimates for the installation of security systems. Most days he would leave home in the morning and travel to the office before heading to a client site. Sometimes he would travel directly from home to a client site. He would usually visit the office again before returning home.

His employer gave him a company-owned work truck to do his job, and he used it for travel between job sites and for his commute from home and back. In 2016, he was killed in an accident at the end of his workday. His family put in a claim for worker’s comp benefits. But the state industrial commission denied the claim under the “coming and going rule” since he was driving home.

A state court of appeals affirmed the decision. It found that the contractual duty exception didn’t apply because the employer didn’t provide the truck to the worker as a matter of right, it simply allowed employees to use company vehicles. The traveling salesperson exception didn’t apply because even though the employee traveled a lot between job sites, he was on his way home at the time of the crash and had fixed hours and a home base.

The law may work differently in other states. Check with an employment lawyer to learn more about the law in your state.

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