A surgical technician for a hospital worked a regular schedule and on-call shifts on a rotating basis. While on call but not on duty, she was paid $2 per hour, which increased to 1.5 times her regular pay for the time she was called into the hospital for surgery.
While she was on call, she was expected to be available for contact by telephone or pager at all times, stay within 30 minutes' travel time to the emergency room, refrain from using alcohol or drugs, and remain alert and able to perform the responsibilities of her job.
A human resources director for the hospital said that the hospital benefitted financially by developing an on-call system.
While on call, the technician was called shortly after midnight to report to the hospital to assist with emergency surgery. While still on call, she was driving back to her home at 2:30 a.m. when she was injured in an automobile accident. She sustained several injuries that required surgeries. Because of her injuries, she missed 37 weeks of work.
The technician sought workers' compensation benefits. The hospital denied compensability, arguing that she was not injured in the course and scope of her employment. The trial court denied benefits, holding that the injury sustained while traveling from her place of employment was not compensable despite her on-call status.
The technician appealed.
Was the trial court correct in finding the technician's injury was not compensable?
A. No. The coming and going rule did not apply to the technician because she was paid for her time spent on call and the hospital benefitted from the on-call system.
There was no causal connection between the technician's injury and her employment.
Under the coming and going rule, the technician's travel home from work was not within the course of her employment.
How the court ruled: A. In an unpublished decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that the technician's injury occurred in the course of her employment. Shannon v. Roane Medical Center, No. E2011-02649-WC-R3-WC (Tenn. 03/13/13, unpublished).
The court considered the totality of the circumstances and concluded that the technician's injury occurred in the course of her employment. The technician was not directly compensated for her travel, but she was paid for the time she spent on call. The hospital also imposed several restrictions during her on-call hours. The on-call system permitted the hospital to provide operating room services 24 hours per day without having to pay full staffing, providing the hospital with substantial savings in salary expenses. The court also pointed out that the on-call system required additional travel that subjected the technician to an increased risk.
B is incorrect. The court explained that there was a clear causal connection between the technician's injury and her employment because she would not have been driving home but for her work at the hospital. Therefore, the injury arose out of her employment.
C is incorrect. According to the court, if travel provides a significantly greater benefit to the employer and results in a greater risk to the worker, injuries to the worker during the travel should be compensable. The court found that the technician's irregular commuting during her on-call shifts provided a significant benefit to the hospital and subjected her to a greater risk by requiring more frequent and extensive travel, often at odd hours.
Editor's note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.
June 3, 2013
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