Jaeger v. Childrens Hosp. & Clinics et al.

Jaeger  v. Childrens Hosp. & Clinics et al. No. WC20-6352 (W.C.C.A. January 20, 2021)

The Employee worked as a nurse for Children’s Hospitals, which had a Minneapolis and a St. Paul Clinic. She primarily worked in St. Paul, but would drive between the campuses. She would occasionally do charting at home. The Employee worked full time, and was “on call” every third week.  She testified that it was expected that any employee, as a salaried professional in a very specialized care unit, would respond to an after-hours call or page even if not formally on call.

On the date of injury, decided to leave for the day and complete her charting at home. As she was walking to her car, she received a call from the Minneapolis campus regarding a patient.   The employee said she would telephone a nurse there to see if the nurse could attend to that patient’s needs.  If that nurse could not, then the employee planned to go to the Minneapolis campus to work. The employee did not make the phone call right away because cell reception was poor where her car was parked.  Instead, she started driving toward her home. She planned to stop and park to call the other nurse and decide if she could continue home or should instead go to the Minneapolis campus. However, the employee was involved in an automobile collision before this call happened.  The employee notified the employer of the injury.  The employer and insurer denied primary liability, asserting that the car crash occurred only after the employee had left her employment for the day and was en route to her home.

At the resulting hearing, the employer and insurer disputed whether the employee’s injury arose out of and in the course of her employment, noting that the employee had completed her workday and was traveling home at the time of the collision. The compensation judge issued a Findings and Order determining that the employee was not working at the time of the car crash. As a general rule, injuries incurred in commuting to and from home and the workplace are not compensable. There are several exceptions to this general rule.

The first exception is the traveling Employee doctrine, which holds that an injury sustained during a trip between two job sites is compensable. However, it did not apply because the employee did not regularly travel for work and was not traveling away from her regular employment locations at the time of injury.

The second exception is the special place of work doctrine which applies when the employee is going between two portions of her work premises.   In these cases, an Employee must show that her home was regularly used as a secondary worksite. In some cases, the establishment of the home as a business situs can best be undertaken by demonstrating a clear business use of the home at the end of the specific journey during which the accident occurred.  In others, there may be no evidence that on that particular night the claimant was going to perform some particular work; in these cases the evidence must take the form of proof that the regularity of work at home and other factors endow the home with the continuing status of a workplace, so that any going and coming journey is covered. In this case, there was no evidence that the employee regularly worked at home.  The Employee’s own testimony was that this was an infrequent event. The issue of whether her trip home was in furtherance of performing job duties was a credibility question, and the Judge also took note of the fact that in the Employee’s deposition for the civil lawsuit of the underlying car crash, she testified that the crash occurred while driving home from work. The Employee also did not inform the Employer and Insurer of the civil litigation.

The third exception is the dual purpose doctrine, which holds that an injury during a trip which serves both a business and a personal purpose is within the course of employment if the trip involves the performance of a service for the employer which would have caused the trip to be taken by someone even if it had not coincided with the personal journey.” This did not apply because the Employee started her trip with the intention of going home and the injury occurred while she was still on the same route she always took to go home.   The employee had the burden of showing not only that a work purpose had been added, but that the addition of that purpose played a significant role in bringing about the injury.  Here, the evidence was clear that, whatever the employee might have intended to do by way of interrupting her commute home to pull over and make a work-related phone call, she was still on her intended route home when the car collision occurred. Substantial evidence supported the judge’s findings, and the decision was affirmed.

Takeaway: Injuries incurred in commuting to and from home to the workplace are generally not compensable, however several exceptions apply. The applicability of these exceptions is highly fact specific, and the credibility of Employee’s is especially important in these determinations.