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Does My Employer Have to Pay If I Am Injured While Returning to the Office?

A car accident can leave you with serious, long-term injuries which may prevent you from returning to work. And if your accident occurred in the course of your employment, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. It is therefore critical to understand the difference between an accident which occurs while commuting to work—which is not considered part of your employment—and one that takes place while traveling during the workday.

Injured While “Returning Home”

Here is a recent example from here in Tennessee. The employee in this case worked for a company which provides services to individuals with intellectual disabilities in southeastern Tennessee. The employee’s job frequently required her to travel to the homes of the company’s clients.

In December 2007, the employee drove from her home in Georgia to Dayton, Tennessee, to visit two clients. Following her last meeting, the employee was traveling on the interstate when another vehicle struck her. This sent the employee’s car into a stop sign.

Within a few days of the accident, the employee began experiencing severe back and neck pain. She eventually required cervical fusion surgery and never returned to work. She later sought workers’ compensation benefits, which the employer denied, claiming the accident took place when the employee was commuting back to her home in Georgia, which meant the injury did not occur within the course of employment.

The employee argued to the contrary, she was heading back to her office in Chattanooga, which was located between Dayton and her Georgia residence. The employee said the employer misconstrued her statements to medical personnel that she was “returning home” at the time of the accident. The employer argued this meant she intended to commute back to her residence. The employee said she simply meant she was returning to her “home office” in Chattanooga.

The courts sided with the employee. The Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel of the Tennessee Supreme Court concluded in a September 28 opinion the evidence clearly showed the employee “was engaged in the business of the Employer at the time of the motor vehicle accident, she was working in the course of her employment, and, therefore, her injuries are compensable.” The panel further rejected the employer’s other objections to paying workers’ compensation benefits, including challenging a lower court’s finding the employee suffered from “permanent total disability.” As the panel noted, as a result of the accident, the employee could no longer “sit or stand for more than three hours,” and she frequently fell asleep during the day. (Indeed, the court noted she fell asleep during the trial of her workers’ compensation case.)

Need Help from One of Our Attorneys?

Employers frequently challenge workers’ compensation claims even in the face of overwhelming evidence of an employee’s partial or total disability. That is why, if you have been injured in the course of doing your job, it is important you seek immediate assistance from a qualified Tennessee workers’ compensation attorney. Contact Fox & Farley, Attorneys at Law, today if you need to speak with someone right away.

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