Pennsylvania Coming and Going Rule in Workers' Compensation
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals the average commuter in Lehigh County, PA spends about 25 minutes each way commuting to work. That's almost an hour a day, and it breaks down to about nine days in traffic every year. Those involved in commute-related crashes may find they have a harder time filing a successful workers' comp claim due to the "coming and going rule." This principle holds that workers engaged in a routine commute are not providing a benefit to the employer, and thus are not acting in the course and scope of employment—two criteria that must be met in any workers' compensation claim.
However, no worker should automatically assume the accident isn't covered—even if they were at-fault and even if they were coming to or going from work. That's because Pennsylvania courts have carved out a number of key exceptions to the coming-and-going rule, which means you may indeed have a claim.
Why Work Commute Injury Claims Are Denied
As noted by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in the 2013 case of Mansfield Bros. Painting v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, motor vehicle accidents that occur to-and-from work generally aren't deemed to occur in the course of employment. What that means is, the worker isn't considered to be furthering the business or affairs of the employer.
Not all injuries that occur off-site should be denied (and in fact, Pennsylvania courts have held that an employer's "premises" is not necessarily limited to buildings and property controlled by the company), but employers and workers' compensation insurers often fall back on this rule in such cases, hoping you won't fight back. You should know to that your "commute" may encompass time you spend walking from your car to your office.
But in most cases, the coming-and-going rule only applies to those who have a fixed place of employment. Even then, there may be exceptions.
Exceptions to Coming and Going in Pennsylvania
One of the first things that will need to be determined is whether you are a fixed or traveling employee. If you have no fixed place of employment, or you only check in there occasionally, but spend most of your work day at other sites, you are likely a traveling employee. That would mean traveling is an inherent part of your duties, and thus, you are furthering the business or affairs of your employer while traveling.
But even when an employee is stationary, a commute could be considered in the course of employment if you were on a special mission. The most common example would be if your company sanctioned a work-related errand prior to your arrival at work or just after you have left.
Another element to consider is whether you were driving the employer's vehicle. In some cases, particularly where you were only permitted to use that vehicle for work-related purposes, your commute could be considered furthering the employer's affairs.
As noted in the 2005 case of Wachs v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, there is also an employment contract exception, wherein the court will analyze the totality of the circumstances in considering whether an employee's contract with the company provides for transportation to and from work as an express or implied provision of employment.