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Is a company carpool accident on work time?

Carpooling or ridesharing can be a great way to get to work. Everyone involved saves money on gas, it's good for the environment, it reduces traffic, and you get the benefit of being able to use the faster commuter lanes to save time. In addition, an employer may benefit because carpooling can reduce worker stress, leading to improved productivity and happiness. For this reason, some employers offer incentives for workers who rideshare, including preferred parking spots, discounted parking rates, or even financial incentives. But what happens if you are hurt in an accident while carpooling? Can the company be held responsible for the accident? A recent Texas case suggests that it can, at least under certain circumstances.

In the Texas case, Painter et al v. Amerimex Drilling I, Ltd., a drilling company paid an employee $50 per day to drive three other workers back and forth between company-provided housing and a remote jobsite. After a shift, while headed back to the bunkhouse, the employee caused an accident killing two of the co-workers and injuring the third. The injured co-workers were not on the clock at the time of the injury. The employee who was driving sought and received workers' compensation benefits claiming that his injuries occurred in the course and scope of his employment. The families of the injuried men did not seek workers' compensation benefits, instead, they sought damages from the employee who was driving and the company. The claim against the company was based upon the general principal that an employer is accountable for the actions of its employee so long as those actions are in the scope of his employment.

The employer sought to avoid liability by arguing that the coming and going rule applied. Under the coming and going rule an employer is not responsible for a worker's actions that occur outside of company time, including periods of travel to and from work. The Texas Supreme Court disagreed holding that because the company was paying the employee to drive others, even though he was not driving a company car and the company could not direct his route, he was on company time and, therefore in the course and scope of his employment. Since the injured passengers were not in the course and scope of their employment, the case against the employer for damages can proceed to trial.

If you are injured in an accident while carpooling for work, you should talk to a lawyer experienced in both personal injury and workers' compensation cases. Depending upon the facts and circumstances, you may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits and/or you may be entitled to make a claim for personal injuries. If you have been injured in an accident that occurred while you were carpooling for work, call us at (413) 663-3200 to discuss whether you have a claim. Donovan O'Connor & Dodig, LLP has offices in North Adams, Pittsfield and Springfield, Massachusetts and Bennington, Vermont.

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