Massachusetts Appellate Court Upholds Award of Benefits to Worker Involved in Car Accident While Traveling Home from Job Site

There are many ways that insurance companies may attempt to avoid paying workers’ compensation benefits. Massachusetts law has several doctrines, rules, and procedures that are important to understand when seeking benefits following a work injury. At Pulgini & Norton, our seasoned team of Boston work injury lawyers has the knowledge and experience it takes to ensure that you are treated fairly.

In a recent workers’ compensation case, the worker was a teacher for many years who eventually entered the nursing field. She obtained board certifications in mental health and psychiatric nursing. She worked for an agency that assigned nurses to work in various facilities. She was working as a psychiatric nurse under contract with her employer at the time of the incident. The employee worked the night shift five days a week and would drive to and from work, which was quite a distance. The employee believed that she was allotted compensation for meals and lodging for five days each week, so she would stay in a hotel room during her five-day stretches of work and then drive home at the end of the work week. The employee did not keep records of her expenses for lodging and meals.

According to the company that employed the worker, employees were not provided with a per diem for meals and lodgings unless they met the qualifications of a traveler, and the company did not assume that workers traveled unless the worker notified the employer. The company further testified during proceedings that it paid the worker a per diem for seven days because the worker did not notify the employer that she traveled home at the end of her five-day shifts.

One evening, she was returning to her home after the last night of her five-day shift when she was involved in a serious car accident. She required several surgeries and was unconscious for several weeks. She had no memory of the accident and was eventually discharged. She required a walker and assistance from a registered nurse, occupational therapist, and physical therapist. The woman sought workers’ compensation benefits, which a judge initially granted. The insurance company for the employer appealed, stating that the “going and coming” rule applied to bar the worker from receiving compensation. This rule bars compensation for any injury sustained when an employee is traveling to and from a fixed place of employment. This rule does not apply, however, when a traveling employee is involved.

A hearing was held to determine the applicability of this rule. The judge concluded that there was a lack of evidence describing the agreement between the parties regarding compensation for travel and that the language of the contract was inconsistent with the parties’ behavior. Ultimately, the judge concluded that the employer was liable for the car accident-related injuries and ordered the employer to pay benefits.

The employer appealed, arguing that the employee was not a traveling employee and that she had a fixed place of employment. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s findings, concluding that the conduct of the parties showed that the worker was a traveling employee. The fact that the worker violated company rules by failing to notify her employer when she was traveling was not a sufficient ground for barring compensation.

If you were injured at work, you may be entitled to compensation. At Pulgini & Norton, we have assisted numerous Massachusetts workers with understanding their legal rights in a workers’ compensation case following a painful work injury. To schedule your free consultation, contact us at 781-843-2200 or contact us online.

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