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Worker’s paralysis from car accident not compensable

car accident

A traveling employee who became paralyzed in a car accident that took place after he had dinner and a beer was not entitled to workers compensation, an appellate court held Tuesday. 

In Bache v. Tic-Gulf Coast, a three-judge panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed a North Carolina Industrial Commission’s finding that the worker was not in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident.

Clayton Bache worked for TIC Gulf Coast, a division of Englewood, Colorado-based TIC Holdings Inc. The company had been contracted to perform construction at a power plant in Wayne County, North Carolina, and Mr. Bache had been hired as a heavy equipment operator. Because he lived in Florida, he was provided with an hourly rate and a per diem rate to cover duplicate living expenses — he and a co-worker shared a recreational vehicle for housing while in North Carolina.

On Jan. 16, 2011, he and his co-worker dined at a nearby Ruby Tuesday after work; Mr. Bache said he had one Bud Light with dinner. After leaving the restaurant, Mr. Bache was in a single-car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. His blood alcohol level was 0.10.

He sought workers compensation benefits for his injuries, and a deputy commissioner denied his claim on the grounds that he was not in the course and scope of his employment at the time of his accident. He appealed to the full commission, which also denied his claims, and he appealed again.

The appellate court affirmed the commission’s decision. Although Mr. Bache argued that he met the definition of a traveling employee, and the accident arose out of travel necessitated by his employment, the appellate court disagreed.

North Carolina law states that “employees whose work requires travel away from the employer's premises are within the course of their employment continuously during such travel” with the rationale that “an employee on a business trip for his employer must eat and sleep in various places in order to further the business of his employer.” While Mr. Bache argued that his per diem was sufficient to show that he was at traveling employee, the court noted that he was not separately compensated for travel to and from work, provided with company transportation, and was free to use the per diem payment in any manner he wished.

Although he asserted that his employment required him to travel to restaurants and lodging in the area because he worked so far from his Florida residence, the court found that since he worked at the Wayne County project site, which only required travel to and from his local residence site, it was no different than any other local employee traveling from a local residence to their workplace, and therefore he was not in the course of employment at the time of the accident.

The court also noted that Mr. Bache’s job with TIC was conditional on him moving from Florida to North Carolina for the two-year project, upon which time his job would end, and unlike an individual on a business trip, Mr. Bache was not assigned to work elsewhere, nor did he have another place of employment to return to.

Therefore, the court held that Mr. Bache’s travel had no business purpose, and was entirely personal, and affirmed the dismissal of his claim.

Attorneys in the case did not immediately respond to requests for comment.





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