Accident During the Work Commute: Employer Responsibility?

By Peter DePaolis

One might assume that if you get injured in a collision on your way to work or on your way home from work, you can file a workers’ compensation claim for your injuries. Unfortunately, that assumption is likely to be incorrect. As with many legal questions, the facts of your situation will determine the outcome.

The question of liability for an accident during the work commute and whether it is the employer’s responsibility is complicated. You will want to talk to a District of Columbia personal injury attorney about your legal options.

Workers’ Compensation and Work Commute Accidents

The Workers’ Compensation program in the District of Columbia (DC) usually does not cover injuries that happen during a worker’s commute to or from work. Workers’ compensation benefits are for injuries that “arise out of” a person’s employment. This state benefit program does not guarantee safe arrival at your job. Your employer has no control over the interval between your house and the job site.

Your boss does have responsibility for things like maintaining a safe workplace, establishing protocols for the safe use of equipment, and complying with Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) regulations. Your employer does not have a legal right to dictate how you drive your car or make other transportation decisions.

It might seem counterintuitive not to cover accidents that happen during work commutes, because a person has to get to work somehow. Usually, however, the details of how one gets to work and back home are not conditions of the individual’s employment. 

The “Coming and Going” Rule in DC

DC law evaluates several factors when deciding whether an employee’s work commute accident will get considered as on the job and thus, eligible for worker’s compensation benefits. None of these issues guarantee coverage under the program, but a judge can evaluate them when ruling on eligibility.

  • Did the accident happen in a company-owned or company-provided vehicle that the worker used for, among other things, their commute?
  • Did the employer pay the employee for their travel time to work and back?
  • Did the employer pay for gas for the vehicle, including for the commute?

The court might have to decide whether the “coming and going” rule qualifies the employee for worker’s compensation benefits if they get hurt in a collision during their commute.

Other Possible Options

If your employer does not have liability under workers’ compensation for an accident that happened during your work commute, you might have other legal options. Let’s say that the coming and going rule does not qualify you for workers’ compensation benefits, but you drive a company car that your employer is supposed to maintain in roadworthy condition. If your employer failed to perform routine maintenance on the vehicle and that failure caused or contributed to the accident, like failing to replace bald tires, your employer might bear some responsibility for the crash. These cases will turn on the facts of your situation, so you will want to talk to a District of Columbia personal injury attorney to protect your right to compensation. For help with your case, contact our office today. The initial consultation is free, and there is no obligation.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.