Workers Compensation Exception to General Rule: Employee will not Receive Benefits if Injured while Going to or Coming from Work

Most employees are covered by workers’ compensation. This insurance protects workers that are injured as a result of work related accidents and diseases. This insurance however generally does not cover people while traveling to or from their place of employment, the so-called ‘going and coming rule”.

On Christmas eve 1963, one Richard Whaley was employed as a “hot walker” at what was then known as Bowie Race Course. His duties consisted of walking the horses belonging to his employer and when it was necessary assisting the groom in caring for the horses. “Whaley’s job did not require him to actually be on duty twenty-four hours a day but he was expected to be at the stables with the horses whenever he was needed, for example, if a horse became sick or if there was a fire. In addition, Whaley slept in a dormitory near the stables and was expected to act as a watchman in case of emergencies that might arise at any time of the day or night. When there were lulls in the work he was free to do what he wished with his free time”.

Also in the employ of the Stable which employed Whaley, was an exercise rider who occasionally rode as a professional jockey, and a groom, who in the absence of the regular trainer was in charge of the training operations at Bowie and in such capacity gave orders and directed the work of the other two employees.

 

“On the morning December 24, the three men arose early, had a light breakfast at the race track cafeteria, fed and exercised the horses, and at about 10:30 A.M. decided to have coffee at a restaurant about half a mile from the track. After cashing Whaley’s pay check at the track cafeteria they left the grounds in an automobile owned by the Stable which they were authorized to use, and when they had traveled about 100 yards from the main gate they collided with a train.” 1 The exercise rider and groom died as a result of the accident and Whaley was seriously injured.

 

Whaley filed a claim for worker’s compensation benefits for the injuries sustained in the accident, alleging that the accident arose out of and in the course of his employment. The insurance carrier for the Stable at the hearing before Maryland’s Workmen’s Compensation Commission defended the claim on the ground that the accident did not occur in the course of Whaley’s employment. After a hearing the Commission ruled that the accident arose out of and in the course of Whaley’s employment. Eventually the case was settled.

 

Thereafter the automobile insurer for the vehicle that Whaley was traveling in, successfully filed suit for a declaratory ruling that it would not be liable for damages to Whaley because the vehicle’s policy excluded workers’ compensation claims.

 

Ultimately Maryland Courts opined that while generally workers’ compensation does not cover injuries received while going to or from work on public streets, that Mr. Whaley’s case was different:

His work day did not begin and end on a set schedule. He was required to be on call around the clock and he was paid on that basis. The employer furnished no meals to this employee nor did he furnish a place where meals or refreshments could be obtained. Although there was a cafeteria nearby operated by the track, the cafeteria was located at such a distance from Whaley’s general work area that a car was considered necessary to get there and return in a reasonable time. There was also testimony to the effect that only two stables had horses at Bowie at that time and that for this reason the cafeteria was operating on a token basis with only a skeleton force. Those facts, coupled with the knowledge of the employer that his employees frequently left the track for coffee and meals and that they did so with his approval, are further indications that Whaley was within the course of his employment.

 

This proper ruling making sure injured workers are treated fairly in the event of injury.

 

1. Maryland Casualty Company, et al v. Insurance Company of North America, 248 Md. 704 , 238 A.2d 88 (1968).

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