New Opinion in Personal Vs. Business Travel
The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently issued an unpublished decision in the case of Bache v. TIC-Gulf Coast. The opinion highlights issues relevant to personal travel versus business travel.
Plaintiff was hired as a heavy equipment operator by Defendant, an industrial construction company. He relocated from Florida to Wayne County, North Carolina for the project and was paid a per diem for his living expenses. He lived in a motel for two weeks, then moved in with a co-worker. Approximately one month after starting his job, Plaintiff went to look at rental properties with a co-worker. They then went to dinner, where Plaintiff consumed alcohol. On their way home from dinner, they were involved in a car accident. Plaintiff was severely injured, and became paralyzed from the chest down. Plaintiff filed for workers’ compensation benefits. At the deputy commissioner level, it was determined that Plaintiff was not in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident. The claim was determined to be not compensable. Plaintiff appealed, and the Full Commission affirmed. Plaintiff then appealed to the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the Full Commission’s holding. The Court held that, though Plaintiff was paid a per diem for living expenses, the per diem did not separately compensate him for travel to and from work. Thus, Plaintiff was not a traveling employee. The Court further held that Plaintiff was not traveling to or from the job site, as he had made stops to look at rental properties and to have dinner. Finally, because Plaintiff’s work for Defendant was fixed at one job site, and did not require him to travel to other locations, he did not qualify as a traveling employee.
This case is a good reminder that, just because an employee is located at a certain place for a business purpose, an injury that occurs during travel may not be compensable due to the specifics of the employment, deviations due to personal errands, and the standardized nature of a job site.