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Kentucky high court upholds award for injuries from truck accident

Posted On: Mar. 1, 2022 9:21 AM CST

Kentucky Supreme Court

The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that a worker was entitled to benefits for his injuries from a car accident that occurred as he was traveling back to his employer’s property from a job site.

Dee Whitaker Concrete has a shop located next to the owner’s home in Smithfield, Kentucky. Its employees meet at the shop on workday mornings to obtain tools, then travel to work sites. The employees are paid from the time they arrive at the shop until the job is finished at the end of the day.

On Aug. 4, 2017, Austin Ellison was riding back from a work site in a truck owned by the son of company owner Dee Whitaker when it left the road and overturned. Mr. Ellison, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the vehicle and suffered multiple injuries.

Mr. Ellison filed a workers compensation claim, which Whitaker Concrete contested. An administrative law judge found that he was entitled to temporary total disability benefits, permanent partial disability benefits and medical benefits.

The state Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed, as did the Court of Appeals.

The Kentucky Supreme Court said that, generally, injuries suffered by workers when they are going to or returning from the place where they regularly perform the duties connected with their employment are not deemed to rise out of and in the course of the employment, as the hazards ordinarily encountered in such journeys are not incidental to the employer's business.

This rule is subject to several exceptions, though, the court said.

The first is the traveling employee doctrine, which considers an injury that occurs while the employee is in travel status to be work-related unless the worker was engaged in a significant departure from the purpose of the trip.

There is a second exception if the injury happens during travel between work and home if the journey is part of the service for which the worker is employed or otherwise benefits the employer.

The court said both exceptions applied to this case, as Mr. Ellison’s work required travel away from the employer's premises to various job sites.

The trip on the day of the accident was “a necessary and inevitable act of returning from the out-of-town job site and was necessitated by the furtherance of the employer's business interests,” the court said. “Ellison's employment was the reason for his presence at what turned out to be a place of danger.”

The court also said Mr. Ellison’s travel from the employer's premises was a service to the employer and benefitted it by furthering its business.

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