Good news after a potentially expansive decision on liability for commute-time accidents: The Court of Appeal of California has overturned a workers’ compensation award to an employee who was in an accident on his way to work a swapped shift.
Recent case: Robert worked as a corrections officer overseeing a group of inmates. The program ran 24 hours per day and always had to be staffed. When necessary for personal reasons, officers could switch shifts. That helped the California Department of Corrections save overtime costs and avoid the hassles of finding last-minute replacements for absent workers.
When a co-worker called to say he had to take his grandmother to the hospital, Robert agreed to swap shifts. The co-worker said he would work Robert’s later shift.
Since he had to be at work at 6 a.m., Robert left home before dawn. On the way, his car skidded on black ice and plunged into a ravine. Robert was severely injured and applied for workers’ compensation.
He got the benefits on the theory that he wasn’t just commuting, but engaged in a special mission for his employer. Essentially, he argued successfully that by saving on overtime and coming in early, he was benefiting the state and thus wasn’t just commuting.
The California Court of Appeal disagreed. It said that this was just an ordinary commuting accident. (California Department of Corrections v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, No. E054153, Court of Appeal of California, 4th Appellate District, 2012)