An Ohio court has denied a workers’ compensation claim by an employee who was injured in a traffic accident while traveling to obtain paintbrushes to use at a job site.

The employee worked for a waterproofing company applying a special paint to newly constructed homes to waterproof the foundations. He received $50 plus mileage reimbursement for each house the employer assigned him to paint, and could typically complete five houses in a single day. His employer supplied the paintbrushes and paint. The employee obtained needed supplies at the headquarters but also stored some paint and paintbrushes at his house. He could also purchase supplies such as paintbrushes when needed and would be reimbursed.

On his day off, when the employee went to the headquarters to pick up his paycheck, his employer let him know that three jobs needed to be done that day. The employee’s brother was with him at the time. He decided to go home to pick up paintbrushes and then drop off his brother on the way to the job site. Before he reached his home to pick up the brushes, however, he was in an auto accident and sustained serious injuries.

The employee filed for and was granted workers’ compensation benefits after the accident, but the employer appealed. The employer lost at every administrative level, including at a hearing before the full Industrial Commission, which ultimately approved the prior allowances. The employer then appealed to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas and won.

The employee then filed an appeal in the Tenth District Court, which analyzed the “coming and going” rule. According to this rule, an injured worker must prove that he or she was injured in the “course and scope of employment and that the injury arises out of the employment relationship.” The rule is “a tool used to determine whether an injury suffered by an employee in a traffic accident occurs ‘in the course of’ and ‘arises out of’ the employment relationship so as to constitute a compensable injury.”

The coming and going rule applies only to “fixed situs” employees, which are employees whose work location is assigned by the employer. An employee can be considered fixed situs even if the particular job location changes on a weekly or even daily basis. So long as the employee commences his or her substantial employment duties only after arriving at a “specific and identifiable workplace designated by the employer,” the employee will be considered fixed situs.

After determining that the claimant was a fixed situs employee, the court then analyzed whether the coming and going rule would be a bar to an allowance under the facts of the case. The court further determined that because the claimant was not required to store supplies at his house – but rather did so for his own convenience – he was not engaged in “substantial employment duties” when he travelled home to get the supplies. He did not begin his duties until he arrived at the job site. Accordingly, his accident did not occur within the course and scope of and arising out of the employment relationship.

The court also discussed exceptions to the coming and going rule that apply even to fixed situs employees. The “zone of employment” exception would permit an allowance for injury where the employee was injured in an area under the control of the employer, though perhaps not yet engaged in the performance of substantial job duties. A “special hazard” exception applies to employees who would not have been at the location of the injury but for the employment, and the employment itself creates a special risk “distinctive in nature or quantitatively greater than the risk common to the public.” The “special mission” exception applies when the injury is sustained by the employee while performing a special task, service, mission, or errand for his employer, even before or after customary working hours, or on a day on which he does not ordinarily work. Finally, a “totality of the circumstances” exception looks at all of the relevant factors of the accident to determine (1) the proximity of the scene of the accident to the place of employment, (2) the degree of control the employer had over the scene of the accident, and (3) the benefit the employer received from the injured employee’s presence at the scene of the accident.

The Tenth District Court found that none of the exceptions apply and upheld the trials court’s denial of benefits.

If you have an employee who has been injured while traveling to or from a job location, all of the facts must be carefully analyzed to determine whether you are likely to succeed in a challenge asserting the coming and going rule. Please do not hesitate to contact Ennis Britton to assist in that analysis.

Cunningham v. Bone Dry Waterproofing, Inc., 2016-Ohio-3341