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COURT CONCLUDES THAT “TRAVELING EMPLOYEE” SUFFERS COMPENSABILITY INJURY

COURT CONCLUDES THAT “TRAVELING EMPLOYEE” SUFFERS COMPENSABILITY INJURY

 

McDaniel v. Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co.

Circuit Court of Mobile County, Alabama (March 30, 2012)

 

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals recently held that an employee who was injured in a car accident while on his way to a job site to work on an oil rig fell within the exception of the “going and coming rule” and was acting in the scope of his employment at the time of the accident.

 

The employee, Michael McDaniel, began working for the employer as a drilling contractor in May of 2007.  At the time of his accident on January 10, 2008, McDaniel was living in Alexandria, Louisiana.  The employer is hired by oil companies to drill holes or wells or to place pipes to open wells that have already been drilled.  McDaniel testified that when he was at work, he was on location, which meant that he stepped out of an on-site trailer and went straight to work.

 

At the time of his accident, McDaniel was a “motor man.”  He worked 12-hour shifts and his crew worked 12 hour shifts seven days a week and then was off the next seven days.  McDaniel was also paid for 2 hours a week to attend safety meetings and another hour each week for attending a weekly safety meeting.  Safety meetings were held every morning before McDaniel’s tour went into effect.  The meetings were mandatory and typically lasted 15 to 30 minutes.

 

McDaniel testified that the employer provided the rig crew with crude trailers with bunks to stay because the employer wanted the crew on the work site.  Additionally, the rig manager was provided a trailer with an office inside, and the oil company’s representatives had their own trailer outside the rig.  Gerald Hay, a rig manager, testified that the employer rented the crew trailers to have them on location for use by its employees.  McDaniel testified that he always stayed in the crew trailers during a 7-day hitch.

 

McDaniel was normally the motor man for rig 79.  However, on January 9, 2008, he was assigned to work on rig 136 located in Creola, Alabama.  On January 9, 2008, McDaniel drove his personal vehicle from his home in Louisiana to the job site in Alabama and arrived at approximately 4:00 a.m.  According to McDaniel, he and the remaining crew were disassembling rig 136 in order to move it to another job site located in Chunchula, Alabama.

 

At the end of the day on January 9, 2008, McDaniel claimed that he was told that the crew trailers, which are moved before the rig itself, were being set up at the new job site.  McDaniel was directed to go to the new job site to sleep in the crew trailer that was located there.

 

McDaniel claimed that on January 10, 2008, he and three other crew members were awakened at 5:15 a.m. and attended a safety meeting.  The employer however presented evidence that no safety meeting was conducted at the new job site.  McDaniel testified that at the end of the safety meeting he was instructed to return to the old job site in Creola.  He testified that during the trip, it was extremely foggy, he was traveling on a muddy road in the woods  and the conditions were extremely hazardous.  As he was traveling on a gravel road, his vehicle slid through a stop sign at the end of the road and another vehicle collided with the passenger side of McDaniel’s vehicle, causing him injuries.

 

McDaniel admitted that no one working on rig 136 had told him he had to stay in the crew trailer.  It was undisputed that the employer did not provide McDaniel with a vehicle, per diem for food or anything else, mileage or gas reimbursement, a cell phone, a pager, or a radio.

 

The trial court initially granted the employer’s Motion for Summary Judgment concluding that the employee failed to present substantial evidence that one or more of the exceptions to the “going and coming rule,” which provides that accidents occurring while a worker is traveling on a public road while going to or coming from work generally fall outside the course of the employment, applied in the present case.  McDaniel appealed.  The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court and remanded the case back to the trial court finding that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the facts of the case fell within one of the exceptions to the going and coming rule.

 

After a trial, the trial court entered its judgment in favor of the employer based on the going and coming rule and the inapplicability of the exceptions to the rule in the present case.  The employee appealed.

 

In reversing the decision of the trial court, the Court of Appeals considered the question, as a matter of first impression, when an employee would be considered a “traveling employee.”  According to the traveling employee exception, the “premises” of the employer would included the entire area devoted by the employer to the industry with which the employee is associated.  The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reviewed similar cases in the state of Minnesota, the state Alabama based its Workers’ Compensation Act on.  Minnesota courts have adopted the view that a traveling employee is considered to be concluding his employers business any time he is in his prescribed territory.

 

In the case at bar, McDaniel was required to report to rig 136 in Mobile County.  The court also noted that McDaniel was required, in order to keep his job, to drive from his home in Alexandria, Louisiana, to report to rig 136 in Creola. He was “geographically limited by the necessity of being available for work on the employer’s job site.”  The employer invited McDaniel to stay in the crew trailer.  Regardless of whether McDaniel was required to stay in the crew trailer, one was rented and provided by the employer at the site of rig 136 and McDaniel was invited by the employer to stay in a crew trailer, with an assigned bunk, free of charge.  Taking those facts in to account, the Court of Appeals held that McDaniel would be considered a “traveling employee.”  As a  traveling employee McDaniel was acting within the course of his employment at the time of the accident because he was within his employer’s prescribed territory at the time that it occurred.

 

I hope you have found the above summary helpful and informative. If you have any questions or would like copies of the cases referenced in this letter, please feel free to give me a call.

 

For a copy of this and other publications regarding recently released cases of interest in the State of Alabama, please feel free to visit our website at www.robertsasscociates.net/publications. If you would like to receive these updates via email, please send an email to sroberts@robertsassociates.net.

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