Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Summary 2011 WY 120

Summary of Decision August 24, 2011

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Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court

Case Name: Barlow v. State, ex rel. Wyoming Workers’ Safety and Compensation Division

Citation: 2011 WY 120

Docket Number: S-10-0243


Appeal from the District Court of Park County, Honorable Steven R. Cranfill, Judge

Representing Appellant (Employee/Claimant): Larry B. Jones of Simpson Kepler & Edwards, The Cody, Wyoming Division of Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, Cody, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee (Objector/Defendant): Bruce A. Salzburg, Wyoming Attorney General; John W. Renneisen, Deputy Attorney General; James M. Causey, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Kelly Roseberry, Assistant Attorney General.

Date of Decision: August 24, 2011

Facts: The appellant injured his knee while climbing into his employer-provided truck as he was preparing to leave on a work-related trip. His request for workers’ compensation benefits related to his injury was denied by the Wyoming Workers’ Safety and Compensation Division (“Division”), which denial was upheld on summary judgment by the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”), and affirmed by the district court.

Issues: Whether the OAH correctly applied the “going and coming rule,” as codified in Wyo. Stat. 27-14-102(a)(xi)(D), when it granted summary judgment in favor of the Division.

Holdings: To prove entitlement to benefits, the appellant had to show that he sustained an “injury” as defined by Wyo. Stat. 27-14-102(a)(xi) (2011). However, Wyo. Stat. 27-14-102(a)(xi)(D) provides the term “injury” does not include “Any injury sustained during travel to or from employment unless the employee is reimbursed for travel expenses or is transported by a vehicle of the employer.” This statute is the codification of a concept known as the “going and coming” rule, which is based on a long-standing common law rule that injuries incurred while either going to or coming from work are not compensable unless the employer has in some fashion provided the employee with transportation or has reimbursed him for the costs of those travels. Essentially, the question in the present action is whether the act of entering an employer-provided vehicle to embark on a work-related trip falls within the scope of “being transported by a vehicle of the employer.”

The definition of “transport” is: “to carry from one place to another: convey.” The ordinary and obvious meaning of that word, when read and considered in the context of the statute, leaves no doubt that an injury sustained during travel is only compensable if it occurs as the claimant is being carried or conveyed from one place to another (i.e. sitting in the vehicle and moving from one place to another). Entering the vehicle, as the appellant was doing here, simply does not fit within the plain language of the statute. Because of the specific and narrow nature of the language of the statute, there is simply no room for the notion that injuries suffered while “preparing to travel,” or that all injuries suffered while doing any activity tangentially related to any travel “necessary to employment,” are compensable.

Thus, the language of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-102(a)(xi)(D) plainly and unambiguously requires that for an “injury sustained during travel” to be compensable, it must occur as the employee is being “transported by the vehicle of their employer.” That is, the vehicle must be carrying the employee from one place to another. Because the appellant here was entering the vehicle in preparation for that transportation, the injury he sustained while entering the vehicle is not compensable.

The OAH’s decision is affirmed.

J. Voigt delivered the opinion for the court.

J. Burke, joined by C.J. Kite, dissented. When an employee is reimbursed for travel expenses or is transported by an employer’s vehicle, it must be determined whether the claimant’s injury was sustained “during travel.” The claimant’s injury did arise “during travel,” and he has satisfied the general test for compensability by establishing a “causal nexus” between the injury and his employment. Accordingly, grant of summary judgment should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

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