20
Jul 2017
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Exceptions to Rhode Island’s Workers’ Comp Coming-and-Going Rule

The “coming and going” rule in Rhode Island workers’ compensation cases is one that typically most impacts commuting employees. These are the workers who are coming and going to their place of employment and are injured during the commute.

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As our Rhode Island workers’ compensation attorneys can explain, injuries are generally only compensable by a workers’ compensation insurer if the injury:

  • Occurred in the course of one’s employment;
  • Arose out of the scope of one’s employment.

What that means is that there is some proximity link (by time, distance or circumstance) and that it there is a causal link between one’s work and the injury. The “coming and going” rule has generally held that a worker who is commuting back and forth to work is not considered to be acting in the scope of employment.

However, as our attorneys can explain, this is not an absolute rule, and Rhode Island courts have carved out many exceptions.

Rhode Island Exceptions to the “Coming and Going” Rule

Courts in Rhode Island have been confronted with this issue numerous times, and have made many exceptions for workers asserting claim to workers’ compensation benefits despite their commuting at the time of injury.

Courts will often consider whether:

  • You were being paid for your time at the time of injury.
  • Employer was benefiting from your actions at the time of the injury.
  • You were in a company vehicle.

None of these single factors will be the sole decider, and courts will often take into consideration the totality of the circumstances.

One example of an exception was the 1995 Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling in the matter of Toolin v. Aquidneck Island Medical Resource. According to court records, plaintiff was employed as a nursing assistant for a medical company, with duties involving providing care for patients in their homes.

Each week, plaintiff received a new schedule of her assignments for the week, each time at different locations. Employee would then drive directly to these sites, which were patient homes. She wasn’t paid for her time or commute expenses. One day in 1991, plaintiff left one patient’s home and was en route to the next one when she was involved in a serious car accident that rendered her totally incapacitated.

Plaintiff sought workers’ compensation coverage, but was denied by the insurer as well as by a trial judge, who ruled her injuries did not occur in the scope of employment, as she was commuting.

The appellate division reversed, finding that because commuting was part of plaintiff’s job, her injuries did in fact occur in the scope of employment and arose out of it, thus rendering her eligible for benefits. Her employer appealed, arguing the coming-and-going rule in Rhode Island barred her from receiving benefits. The state supreme court, however, affirmed, finding there was sufficient evidence of a nexus between her injuries and employment.

Fighting for Your Workers’ Comp Benefits

At the time of that 1995 ruling, it was an issue of first impression for the court. But in the more than two decades since, many other cases have followed suit.

If you are injured during your work commute in Rhode Island, our workers’ compensation attorneys may be able to help.

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