From an outsider’s perspective, the road from a workplace injury to compensation provided by an employer seems black and white. If someone gets hurt at work, they should be paid work comp benefits. Right? In reality, this path involves more hurdles and takes unexpected turns.
Just because an injury occurs in the workplace doesn’t always mean an employee
will be awarded workers’ compensation for that injury.
In Alabama, to be compensable an employee’s injury must have a causal relationship to the working conditions of the employee’s job performance. This means that in order for an employee to recover, it must be shown that an occupational hazard is what caused the employee’s injury. It must also be shown that the conditions of an employee’s workplace put the worker at greater risk of injury (i.e., driving a forklift in a warehouse or climbing trees for forestry removal) compared to circumstances existing outside of the employment (i.e., mowing the grass at home or shopping at the mall). In either instance, a purely personal cause of an injury is not a recoverable basis under this rule.
At first glance, this requirement seems to set a low bar for recoverable injuries. In application, however, this doctrine bars many claims. One example of this is based on the aptly named “coming and going rule.” Under this rule, an injury occurring while an employee is traveling to or from work does not result in a compensable claim for workers’ compensation. Therefore, even though the worker may be traveling to his job to perform the duties set out by his employment, his actions do not yet fall under the protective umbrella of recovery.
Even with the daunting reality sinking in that being injured at work does not always equal compensation for growing medical costs, there are exceptions to this doctrine that carve out comfort. Such exceptions include instances where the employer pays the injured employee’s travel expenses, when the injury is sustained on the employer’s property, and when an employee crosses a public street from a parking lot owned by his employer. The application of an exception to the coming and going rule is determined on a case by case basis because it depends heavily on the facts surrounding the injury. In one case, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals found that a workers’ compensation claim was not barred even though the employee was injured while driving home because the employer encouraged employees to finish daily duties at home, the injury occurred while the employee was still on the clock, and the employer allowed employees to run personal errands while technically on the job.
Even though the coming and going rule has exceptions, these exceptions are not universally applied. It is not guaranteed that every instance of an employee crossing a street when leaving company property will result in compensation. Nor is it a certainty that an employee receiving a traveling stipend is grounds for employer liability. One example of a case that appeared on its face to meet an exception yet did not in application is one involving an injury in the company parking lot. A nursing student, who worked for the hospital owning the parking lot as a patient care assistant, fell in the parking lot while attending a class at the hospital. She had just completed a shift at the hospital and began a class being held at the hospital when she left class to retrieve a book from her car. This is when she sustained the injury. The exception to the coming and going rule did not apply to the injured student’s case because her injury was not sustained while in her employee capacity. In the eyes of the appellate court, because the injury was sustained after the nursing student made the shift from employee to student (because she began class before going out to the parking lot), the hospital, her employer, was not on the line to pay the nursing student workers’ compensation. The court noted that for an exception to apply, and therefore compensation to be awarded, the employee needed to be injured while acting in a manner incidental or natural to the work she was hired to perform.
Just because you were not at work when an injury occurred does not always leave you without a cause of action. Likewise, even though the exception to the coming and going rule is narrowly applied, this does not mean all claims are pointless. Always look to the circumstances of your injury for the potential of an exception.
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- I was involved in an automobile accident while driving for my employer.
- What is the idiopathic defense in an Alabama Workers’ Compensation Claim?
As we have since 1967, we will continue to protect the legal rights of our clients – those who are hurt on the job while working for Alabama employers. If you have been injured on the job and want to learn your rights, please consider contacting the Nomberg Law Firm. Our office number is 205-930-6900 and website www.nomberglaw.com. Our office is located in Birmingham, Alabama. We handle cases throughout our great State.
 Ex Parte Patton, 77 So. 3d 591 (Ala. 2011).
 Hospice Family Care v. Allen, 218 So. 3d 1222 (Ala. Civ. App. 2016).
 McDuffie v. Medical Center Enterprise, 2012 Ala. Civ. App. LEXIS 249 (Ala. Civ. App. Sept. 14, 2012).
Bernard D. Nomberg has been a lawyer for more than 20 years. Bernard has earned an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell’s peer-review rating. In 2019, Bernard was named a Super Lawyer for the 7th year in a row.