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Expanding The “Traveling Employee” Exception To The Coming And Going Rule

In McDaniel v. Helmerich & Payne Int’l Drilling Co., the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, in a case of first impression, vastly expanded the category of employees meeting the definition of “traveling employees” for the purposes of Alabama’s workers’ compensation law.

In McDaniel, the employee worked as a “rough neck” or “motor man” for a drilling company that was contracted by oil companies to drill wells and to lay pipe at previously drilled wells. The plaintiff typically worked seven day tours during which he stayed nights in trailers provided by his employer. On January 9, 2008, Plaintiff was assigned to begin work on a rig located in Mobile County. That morning, Plaintiff drove his personal vehicle from his home to the location of the rig. The rig was being disassembled prior to a move to a new location. That evening, the employee drove his vehicle to the new location and spent the night in a trailer provided by his employer. The next morning, as he was driving his vehicle back to the original site, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident. There was an issue of fact as to whether the employee was required to be at the new site on the day of the accident.

At trial, the Court entered a judgment in favor of Plaintiff’s employer based on the Coming and Going Rule. The Coming and Going Rule states that accidents occurring while the employee is traveling to and from work are generally not considered to arise out of and in the course of employment. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling, and held that the Plaintiff was a “traveling employee,” meaning that the accident, and Plaintiff’s resulting injuries, arose out of and in the course of his employment. Previously, the “traveling employee” exception to the “coming and going” rule had only been applied to traveling salesmen and truck drivers.

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals relied primarily on case law from Washington, Georgia, and New Mexico. These cases noted that traveling employees often subjected themselves to hazards that were not typical to commuters. The Court also noted that the primary distinction between a commuter and a traveling employee was that the travel undertaken by a traveling employee provides a potential benefit to both the employee and the employer.

The Court ultimately concluded that the Plaintiff met the definition of a traveling employee because he was within his employer’s prescribed territory at the time of the accident. In so holding, the Court aligned itself with the Georgia Supreme Court in holding that plaintiffs who are required by their employment to lodge and work within the area geographically limited by the necessity of being available to work on the employer’s job site, are in continuous employment for purposes of Alabama’s Workers’ Compensation Act.