Injured During Your Commute to Work? What Now?
You’re on your way to work when your car is rear-ended by another vehicle. Although you’re wearing your seatbelt, the impact of the crash causes you serious injuries. All things considered, it’s obvious the accident was not your fault. However, what about the fact that the incident happened during your commute? Does that make it work-related?
The short answer is that it depends. Under New Jersey law, there is something known as the going and coming rule. In fact, it has everything to do with when the workday starts as defined in NJSA 34:15-36. The statute starts off by saying that:
Employment shall be deemed to commence when an employee arrives at the employer’s place of employment to report for work and shall terminate when the employee leaves the employer’s place of employment.
Meanwhile, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, if an employee is injured in an area not under the control of the employer, it is not considered a work-related accident. However, there are circumstances where commuters are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, including the following:
- Company paid worker for travel time for time spent traveling to and from a job site.
- Employer provided employee with authorized vehicle – work commences and terminates with the time spent traveling to and from a job site or the authorized operation of a vehicle on business authorized by the employer.
- Emergency workers are in the course of their employment when traveling to and from emergencies.
- Ridesharing arrangements may in some case constitute the start and end of work-related compensability.
You might wonder why it’s even important if you’re entitled to workers’ compensation benefit. After all, in our example, the other driver seems clearly liable, and you may decide to pursue a case against him (You can still do this for work-related accidents). However, according to choices you made on your automobile accident, you may be limited on what types of injuries warrant a lawsuit.
In the meantime, let’s get back to the underlying issue. A recent unpublished New Jersey Appellate Court decision sheds new light on workers’ compensation claims involving commuters.
Commuters and Workers’ Compensation Benefits
The matter of Minter v. Mattson was just decided on May 10, 2018. The fact that the opinion was not published means that it only applies to the named parties. Nonetheless, it addresses some interesting points concerning commuters and workers’ compensation benefits.
Antoine Minter was employed as a kitchen worker for a continuing care retirement community. On the night before his accident, it snowed for most of the evening. Minter routinely commuted to work by bus. However, when his morning bus failed to arrive, Minter called his supervisor to say he would not be able to make it to the facility.
Food services were essential and there was already a problem with staffing issues because of the inclement weather. Consequently, the employer came up with a plan. Another employee was directed to pick up Minter and deliver him to work. In fact, Minter was advised that he would be fired if he did show up. Accordingly, he accepted the ride.
The roads were bad enough that they kept buses off them. In fact, they were covered with snow and ice. While Minter and dining room supervisor William Mattson were on the way into work, Mattson lost control of his vehicle and crashed with a pick-up truck.
The impact of the accident occurred on the passenger side. Both of Minter’s legs were broken and he also fractured legs and received a severe laceration to his arm. Although there were other issues related to this case, the employer asserted that it did not owe Minter workers’ compensation benefits. After all, he was on the way to the same job site where he worked every day.
As it stands, it’s important to note that the case was heard in Superior Court as Minter pursued a lawsuit against Mattson. The law does preclude civil claims against co-employees. Therefore, Minter’s case was disallowed.
Upon consideration, the Appellate Division found that the employer directed Minter to take the ride or lose his job. Although the issue was not raised by Minter’s attorney, the transportation arrangements were made by the employer – and could be seen as ridesharing.
Once again, regular commuting to the same facility is not generally deemed compensable under the going and coming rule. This case puts a different light on the issue.