Safety and OSHA News

Injured during car crash: Was he a ‘traveling employee?’

Normally, employees aren’t eligible for workers’ comp benefits if they’re injured in a car crash on the way to or from work. There are exceptions, including situations in which the injured person is considered a “traveling employee.” That’s the question in this case which was just taken up by a state supreme court.

Ronald Daugherty, an experienced pipefitter, took a temporary job with Venture-Newberg-Perini, Stone & Webster 200 miles away from his home because there were no jobs available to him that were closer.

He rented a motel room within driving distance of the site where he was to work for Venture, along with another employee in a similar situation.

One morning, his co-worker was driving Daugherty to work. The vehicle skidded on ice and Daugherty suffered serious injuries. He sought workers’ comp benefits.

Daugherty’s position with Venture was temporary. He said it was his understanding Venture wanted workers to be within an hour’s drive of the plant, so they were available for work when needed.

But his co-worker said Venture didn’t direct workers where to stay and they weren’t required to relocate to be closer to the plant.

An arbitrator concluded Daugherty failed to prove his injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment and that he didn’t qualify for the traveling employee exception.

In a divided decision, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed the arbitrator’s decision, finding two exceptions to the usual exclusion of covering injuries suffered traveling to and from work. The Commission found:

  • the crash occurred within the course of Daugherty’s employment because his course or method of travel was determined by the demands of the job, rather than personal preference, and
  • Daugherty was a traveling employee at the time of the crash.

Differing opinions on this case continued in the court system, too. A circuit court found the Commission misapplied Illinois law and set aside its findings. An appellate court reversed the circuit court’s decision, finding Daugherty qualified as a traveling employee.

The case went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Another divided opinion

On appeal, Venture argued Daugherty wasn’t a traveling employee. The company said it didn’t send him to work at the Cordova plant. He was hired as a temporary worker who chose to take that job.

Daugherty argued he was a traveling employee because he was traveling away from him home community for his employer. He also claimed his injury arose out of and in the course of his employment because the course of his travel was determined by the demands of his job, rather than by personal preference.

A previous judicial decision in Illinois stated the traveling employee exception applied when employees’ “duties require them to travel away from their employer’s premises differently from other employees.”

The Supreme Court made the following findings of fact:

  • Daugherty wasn’t a permanent employee of Venture
  • He wasn’t working for Venture on a long-term exclusive basis
  • Nothing in his contract required him to travel
  • Venture didn’t reimburse him for his travel expenses, and
  • The company didn’t assist Daugherty in making his travel arrangements.

For those reasons, the court concluded Daugherty was not a traveling employee at the time of the crash.

Regarding Daugherty’s claim that the course of his travel was determined by the demands of his job, the court noted again that there was no evidence that Venture required him to live within an hour’s travel of the plant, despite Daugherty’s claim that was the case.

Therefore, the court found his travel to and from work was no different than any other ordinary employee’s and that his injuries from the crash shouldn’t be covered by workers’ comp.

Six of the seven Illinois Supreme Court justices hearing this case came to the above conclusion. One disagreed and wrote a dissenting opinion.

The seventh justice wrote Daugherty should be considered a traveling employee because he would have had to travel to the work site because he lived 200 miles away.

Another company, Exelon, contracted with Venture to find qualified nonlocal tradesmen from remote union locations because of the lack of available qualified local union tradesmen near the work site.

For that reason, the seventh justice said Daugherty should be considered a traveling employee, and his injuries from the crash should be covered by workers’ comp.

What do you think about the decision in this case? Do you agree with the Illinois Supreme Court majority or the dissenting opinion? Let us know in the comments below.

(Venture v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, Illinois Supreme Court, No. 2013 IL 115728, 12/19/13)

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Comments

  1. It’s not always the employers responsibility to manage every aspect of their employees’ lives. This is an unfortunate accident that happened to an American citizen that needed to work. If he owned or rented a home in the area, nobody would have supported his travelling employee claim. But because he happened to “live” out of a hotel, some thought he could be a travelling employee. I’m sorry this man was injured, but his employer did not cause the accident nor did the employer tell him how to travel to and from work. The only recourse is to get financial help from the insurance company of the vehicle he was travelling in. I hate that all these taxpayer dollars were spent for wishy-washy decisions by lawyers and judges. But the Supreme Court did get this one right.

  2. Safety SAM says:

    The Supreme Court ruled correctly!

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