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The New Hampshire Supreme Court on Friday awarded benefits to a tree company employee for his injuries in a car accident as he was traveling home after being released early from his shift because of an approaching storm.
Elba Hawes was working for Asplundh Tree Expert LLC as a “ground man” when in November 2019 his company told him to stop work early at noon, punch out and go home and rest for the afternoon so they could return at 8 p.m. for storm cleanup activities through the night.
Soon after driving away from the work site in his personal vehicle, Mr. Hawes was severely injured in an accident. He was unable to work again until February 2020. Mr. Hawes filed a workers compensation claim, which Asplundh contested, contending that injuries were not causally related to his employment.
A New Hampshire Department of Labor hearing officer agreed, as did the Compensation Appeals Board.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court said it has repeatedly recognized that the ordinary perils of travel between home and work are not considered hazards of employment and, therefore, that injuries arising from such travel are not compensable. Thus, the "coming and going" rule is that injuries sustained while traveling to and from work are not compensable for employees with fixed hours and a fixed place of employment.
Mr. Hawes argued that his injuries were compensable under the "special errand" exception to rule, which is when an employee makes an off-premises journey that journey may be brought within the course of employment by the fact that the trouble and time of making the journey, or the special inconvenience, hazard or urgency of making it in the particular circumstances, is sufficiently substantial to be viewed as an integral part of the service itself.
The court, in reversing and remanding, found that Mr. Hawes’ injuries were compensable under the special errand exception, as his journey home occurred at noon instead of at the end of his regular shift.
“Although it was not uncommon for the work schedule to change because of weather, the claimant’s trip home at noon was not part of his regular schedule,” the court reasoned. “The claimant would not have left work at noon but for the employer’s direction to do so.”
Additionally, the court said, when Mr. Hawes left, his day’s work was not finished.
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