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In McDuffie v. Medical Center Enterprise, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals recently declined an opportunity to expand an exception to the “coming and going” rule when it examined the case of a nursing student injured on hospital grounds after her regular shift was over. 2012 Ala. Civ. App. LEXIS 249 (Ala. Civ. App. Sept. 14, 2012).
In McDuffie, the plaintiff was employed by a Coffee County hospital as a Patient Care Assistant (“PCA”). At the time of the accident at issue, the plaintiff was also a nursing student at a local community college. As part of her school curriculum, she was required to attend “clinicals” at the hospital.
One morning, following the completion of a hospital PCA shift, the plaintiff was required to attend a nursing class being held on hospital grounds. However, the plaintiff mistakenly left her books in her car and asked her professor for permission to retrieve them. The professor granted permission and the plaintiff went to her car. She tripped and injured herself on the way to her car, which was located in the hospital parking lot. Thus, her injury took place shortly after the end of her scheduled shift, but before her class began.
Alabama’s “coming and going” rule generally bars compensation where the employee was injured while traveling to or from work. Exceptions carved out by the courts include situations where the employer furnishes travel expenses, where the accident occurs on the employer’s property, or where the employee is injured crossing a public street from a parking lot owned by the employer.
In McDuffie, the hospital successfully moved for summary judgment on grounds that the plaintiff was injured in the course of her academic endeavors and not in the scope of her employment.
The plaintiff argued, on appeal, that she was injured while exiting the hospital to go to her car at the end of the workday while taking her normal route. She supported her argument with several cases wherein employees were compensated after being injured on company grounds following the end of a work shift.
The Court of Civil Appeals was not persuaded, however, and noted that, for an injury to be compensable in such a situation, the employee must have been “engaged in an act naturally related and incidental to the service or work which he was engaged to perform.” In affirming the trial court’s summary judgment order, the Court of Civil Appeals held that the injury was not compensable because, (1) the hospital did not contribute toward the plaintiff’s education; (2) the hospital did not direct the manner in which the plaintiff obtained her education; and (3) the hospital did not benefit by the plaintiff furthering her education (though this is obviously debatable).
In other words, the plaintiff’s injury was not compensable because her injury occurred after she made the switch from employee to student and being a student was not required by, and did not provide benefit to, the hospital.