In 2013, Paula Dugger, a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) left her patient’s home and headed towards her own. On her way, despite her astute defensive driving skills, she was involved in a car accident. Her employer, Home Health Care of Middle Tennessee (HHC), and the workers’ compensation carrier denied her claim. They argued that she was on her way home and therefore wasn’t in the course and scope of her employment at the time of the accident.
Ms. Dugger appealed the denial and the case went in front of the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Court. The court agreed with the employer. She was deemed to have been outside her employment at the time of the injury. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board agreed.
When the case was remanded back to the trial court, the employer, HHC, motioned for summary judgment on the issue of compensability. The employer argued the facts in dispute. There was no reason to try the case because the facts were indisputable. The trial court agreed and granted the employer’s motion.
Ms. Dugger appealed again, this time to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The highest court in the state referred the case to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel. On April 13, 2017, the court announced that the employer’s motion for summary judgment should not have been granted. The court reversed and remanded the case back to the trial court.
The Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel took a close look at the employee handbook. HHC allowed her to drive her own car but told her that she had to increase her automobile liability coverage before she would be hired. She was also instructed not to carry any passengers when operating the vehicle for work. She agreed to both of these requirements, and she used defensive driving techniques to stay safe on the road.
Ms. Dugger accepted a position as an on-call nurse. At the time of the incident, she had not completed an on-call job; however, she knew that if she was called to do so at any point, she would be expected to complete the job asked of her. She provided regular treatment to patients in the middle Tennessee region, and on occasion, she would travel to multiple houses a day per the request of HHC. Her employer frequently provided her with instructions regarding where to go and when. More than once, her employer called her and asked her to drop off patients’ blood samples at a local hospital. She may not have been on-call in the hospital sense of the phrase, but she answered calls from her employer as part of her job, and she followed her employers’ over the phone instructions.
In Tennessee, as in many other states, employees who are injured while coming and going from work aren’t eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. But, like most rules, there’s an exception. If an employee is injured while on a trip that is “substantially part of the services” for which the employer compensates the employee, then a car accident that occurs within that timeframe will be deemed compensable.
When Ms. Dugger drove at work she was expected to make trips and run errands for her employer. When she was injured, she was on her way home, but it’s reasonable to assert that if she would have received a call from HHC before she got home, she would have diverted course and completed the task asked of her. The court decided that there were facts in dispute and reversed and remanded the case.