Medical Ctr., Inc. v. Hernandez, (11/21/2012)
Employees Traveling Long Distance to a Work Site May Not Be Entitled to Workers' Compensation Benefits under the "Continuous Employment" Doctrine
Hernandez and Alvarez-Hilario were employed by Atlanta Drywall, LLC, which was a subcontractor for Rightway Drywall, Inc. Near the beginning of January 2010, the two employees began working on a church construction project in Columbus, Georgia. Hernandez and Alvarez-Hilario lived in Savannah and would make the four-hour drive to Columbus early on Monday mornings, work ten-hour days through the week, and then on Saturdays drive back to Savannah to spend the weekends at home. They were paid only for the hours they actually worked on the job site, and were not paid for travel time. While they were in Columbus for the work week, Rightway arranged and paid for their lodging at a local motel, and would later recoup those expenses from Atlanta Drywall.
On the morning of Monday, February 8, 2010, Hernandez and Alvarez-Hilario left their homes in Savannah to drive to work in Columbus. They were passengers in a personal truck driven by a co-worker. When they were approximately five minutes away from the job site, they were involved in an accident and the truck overturned. Alvarez-Hilario died as a result of the accident and Hernandez was hospitalized for weeks with serious injuries.
In general, accidents or injuries occurring while employees are traveling to and from work do not arise out of and in the course of employment. In this case, Hernandez and Alvarez-Hilario were not yet engaged in their employment at the time of the accident. Rather, they were traveling to the work site when the accident occurred. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found the injuries sustained while traveling to work did not arise out of or in the course of their employment, and denied benefits.
On appeal, employees argued their injuries should nevertheless be held compensable under the continuous employment doctrine. Under prior cases, any continuous employment coverage would have existed only when they were back in the general proximity of the place where they were employed and "at a time they were employed to be in that general proximity." Although Hernandez and Alvarez-Hilario were arguably in the general proximity of the construction site at the time of the accident, it was undisputed they had not yet arrived at the site and had not yet resumed performing the duties of their employment.
The court distinguished earlier cases which found injuries to be compensable under the continuous employment doctrine. The court noted those cases involved employees who, unlike Hernandez and Alvarez-Hilario, were already in the midst of their employment duties for the pertinent time period.
At the time of the accident, Hernandez and Alvarez-Hilario were not engaged in any construction work. The hazards they encountered on the roadway were in no way occasioned by their jobs as construction workers, and since there was no causal connection between their employment and the accident their injuries did not arise out of [their] employment.