In a recent case, the California Court of Appeal reviewed a decision of the Worker’s Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) that denied benefits under the “going and coming rule.” This is a rule that mandates that workers’ compensation benefits not be awarded to employees injured during a local commute to a fixed place of business, at fixed hours. The rationale is that the injury has not taken place during the ordinary course of employment.
Craig Schultz suffered injuries in a traffic accident while driving his personal vehicle on the Edwards Air Force Base, where he worked for Joint Testing Tactics and Training (Joint Testing). He applied for workers’ compensation benefits.
His trial brief included Mr. Schultz’s argument that the use of his personal vehicle was an express or implied condition of employment and an accommodation to Joint Testing, even if it was not a condition of employment. For these reasons, Mr. Schultz argued the going and coming rule did not preclude workers’ compensation liability. In his post-trial brief, Mr. Schultz also contended that the premises line rule applied. Since he was on Joint Testing’s premises when he was injured, as a matter of law the employment relationship had begun.
In response, Joint Testing argued Mr. Schultz was not injured during the course of employment, since the accident occurred before he started work, and seven miles from the building where he worked. In their post-trial brief, Joint Testing stated they did not agree to allow Mr. Schultz to use his own vehicle to work and that government cars were available for use.
The Workers’ Compensation Judge ruled in favor of Mr. Schultz, and Joint Testing sought reconsideration, which was granted by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board. They reversed the decision and relied on the fact that Mr. Schultz had driven his personal car, outside of work hours, when he was injured. They ordered entry of new findings of denial of workers’ compensation benefits. Schultz appealed, and his petition for writ review was granted.
The Court of Appeals reviewed the testimony before the Workers’ Compensation Judge, including a large portion of testimony concerning Mr. Schultz’s use of his personal vehicle as an employee at Edwards for Joint Testing.
Mr. Schultz argued in his petition for review that the premises rule applied. Since his injury occurred on Joint Testing’s premises and he was injured in the course of his employment, he was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. According to Mr. Schultz, since Edwards is a restricted location, security clearance through an employer is required. The accident occurred on Joint Testing’s premises and did not occur while Mr. Schultz was commuting. Thus, he argued, the going and coming rule does not apply.
In response, Joint Testing contends that the premises line rule was not raised earlier, and it was thereby waived. The Court of Appeals stated that, in fact, Mr. Schultz had identified the premises line issue in his post-trial brief as a basis for liability.
The court referred to the going and coming rule as an aid used to help determine whether an injury occurred in the course of employment. An employee who is commuting to work and has not entered the employer’s premises is precluded from compensation for an injury suffered during the course of their commute. The court reviewed case law applying the going and coming rule, including those cases in which an employee recovered for injuries sustained in the employer’s employee parking lots, and another case involving an injury before work hours.
The California Supreme Court has not applied the going and coming rule when an employee suffers injuries while driving on the employer’s premises, and specifically the rule has been rejected when the employee is required to access the employer’s property by a specific means.
Applying the rules of law to the facts at hand, the appellate court stated that three factors guided their determination that Mr. Schultz is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. First, workers’ compensation law is to be construed liberally. Second, the going and coming rule is to be applied narrowly, and third, the reasoning of the California Supreme Court in Smith v. Industrial Acc. Com (1941) 18 Cal.2d 843 (Smith), applies to the facts at hand.
In Smith, an employee was injured traveling a road controlled by the employer on Treasure Island. In Smith, a major issue was defining the premises of the employer. There, the public had access to the roads, while in the case at hand, Edwards is a secure military facility. Mr. Schultz had access to Edwards because Joint Testing provided his means of entry. The entire base was considered Mr. Schultz’s employment, since he worked in various parts of the base. Furthermore, the fact that Mr. Schultz was driving his personal vehicle is “of no moment” in the analysis of applying the premises line rule. The crucial factor is that Mr. Schultz would not have been on the Edwards premises but for his status as a Joint testing employee.
Since Mr. Schultz proved that he was required to work throughout Edwards, and not only in one area, he was on Joint Testing premises for the purposes of employment when he was injured.
The court annulled the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, remanding for further proceedings.
At Sharifi Firm, we represent clients in work injury claims. Contact our office at 866- 422-7222 at for a free consultation.
More Blog Posts:
California Supreme Court Clarifies Appropriate Standard of Causation in Workers’ Compensation Death Case as Contributing, not Substantial Factor, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 6, 2015
California Court of Appeals Denies “Power Press” Exception in Work Injury Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, May 22, 2015