New Guidelines for the Coming and Going Rule
The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently issued a new opinion concerning the coming and going rule. In the case of Wright v. Alltech Wiring & Controls, the Court provided some guidance concerning the contractual duty and traveling salesperson exceptions to the rule.
The deceased worked as an estimator, which required him to visit various job sites. Defendants provided the deceased with a company-owned work vehicle. On most days, the deceased would stop at the office either prior to, or after leaving, a job site. On February 1, 2016, the deceased left the office and began driving home in the company vehicle. On his way, he stopped at a store for a quick personal errand, and then returned to the route. The deceased was involved in a motor vehicle accident that occurred on his route and died as a result of his injuries. The collision took place on a road the deceased typically used during his commute.
Plaintiff, the deceased’s wife, filed a Form 18 claiming entitlement to death benefits. Plaintiff argued that the deceased was in the course and scope of his employment since he was driving a company vehicle. The claim was denied. The Deputy Commissioner upheld the denial of benefits and Plaintiff appealed. The Full Commission affirmed the Deputy Commissioner’s holding.
Ultimately, the Court of Appeals also upheld the denial, finding that the contractual duty and traveling salesman exceptions to the coming and going rule did not apply. Under the contractual duty exception, an injury is compensable where the employer furnishes the means of transportation as an incident to the employment contract, or where the cost of transporting the employees to and from their work is made an incident to the employment contract. The Court found that the deceased’s use of the company work truck was permissive, not required, and that the usage was revocable at will by Defendants. The Court held that, because use of the work vehicle was simply a gratuitous accommodation that benefited both parties, it did not rise to an implied contract, and the exception did not apply.
Under the traveling salesperson exception, it is typically held that if travel is contemplated as part of the job, an accident sustained while in travel is compensable. However, because traveling to and from work is common to most every job, an injured employee who has fixed hours and a fixed place of work does not fall within the traveling salesperson exception. The Court stressed that the standard requires that the injury must arise during travel which is connected to the employment. Since deceased had a fixed work location with fixed hours, and typically started and ended his work day at an office, he had concluded work when the accident occurred on his drive home. Further, the Court pointed to the stop at a store to show that the deceased was not participating in work-related activities at the time of the collision.
This case is a reminder that, simply because an accident occurs in a company vehicle, it is not necessarily compensable. Cases involving a company vehicle are fact specific, and the compensability of the case could depend on the usage of the vehicle, availability of a fixed location for job activities, and an employee’s activities immediately preceding an accident. Interestingly, the Court of Appeals did not mention the Hollin v. Johnson County Council on Aging case. In that case, the employee was using a personal vehicle for the job, and his injury was found to be in the course of his employment. The question remains as to why an employee using a personal vehicle may be covered, but an employee in a company vehicle may not.