Court Addresses Traveling Employee Exception to Coming and Going Rule
On March 30, 2012, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released its decision in the case of McDaniel v. Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co., In this case, the Appellate Court addressed whether an oil rig worker was a "traveling employee" for purposes of The Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act. Under what is generally known as the "coming and going rule", accidents which occur while a worker is traveling on a public road either going to or coming from work are deemed to have occurred outside of the course of the employee’s employment and are therefore not compensable under the Act. However, Alabama law has long recognized the "traveling employee" exception to this rule, which states that an accident occurring on the employer’s premises occurs in the course of employment, and the premises includes the entire area devoted by the employer to the industry with which the employee is associated.
The employee in McDaniel lived in Louisiana but had been assigned to work in Mobile County, Alabama, to move an oil rig from one drilling site to another. The employer offered McDaniel lodging at a crew trailer at the site where the rig would be moved. On the morning of January 10, 2008, McDaniel woke up in the crew trailer and began driving to the site where the rig was being disassembled. However, along his route, McDaniel was injured in car accident. It was undisputed that the employer did not provide McDaniel with a vehicle, per diem for food, mileage, gas reimbursement, a cellphone, or any other benefits common to traveling employees. As such, the employer argued that the traveling employee exception to the coming and going rule did not apply, and therefore, McDaniel’s accident was not compensable. The trial Court agreed, but McDaniel appealed, arguing that travel was an integral part of his job and was for the benefit of his employer. The Court of Appeals held that since McDaniel was required by his employer to drive from his home in Louisiana to report to the oil rig sites in Mobile County, he was "geographically limited by the necessity of being available for work on the employer’s job site" and therefore, "encountered special hazards on the road that could be avoided were travel not a necessary component of the employment."
The Court noted that the primary reason for the distinction between a commuter and a traveling employee is that the travel undertaken by a traveling employee provides substantial benefit to both the employee and the employer. The Court further noted that in order for the traveling employee exception to apply to the coming and going rule, the activity giving rise to the injury must confer some benefit upon the employer, although the benefit need not be pecuniary, but instead may be as intangible as a well-fed and well-rested employee. Although the evidence at trial indicated that McDaniel was not required to stay in the crew trailer the night before the accident, the fact that the trailer was rented and provided by the employer at the job site indicated that the employer was deriving a substantial benefit from McDaniel staying there and then traveling to another job site. The Court further noted that there was no evidence that McDaniel was performing a special or personal errand or mission at the time of the accident, and was therefore carrying on his employer’s business at the time of the wreck. Based on these findings the Court of Appeals reversed the Trial Court’s judgment and remanded the case to the Trial Court to enter a judgment finding that McDaniel’s accident arose out of and in the course of his employment.