Paula Dugger v. Home Health Care of Middle Tennessee
Docket No. 2015-05-0341
Filed January 31, 2017
This is a case that was decided upon by the Tennessee Supreme Court upon direct appeal by the employee. The trial court granted the employer’s Motion for Summary Judgment, and the legal issue involved was application of the going and coming rule.
Paula Dugger (employee) was employed as a home health nurse for her employer, Home Health Care of Middle Tennessee (HHC). While returning to her home from an attempt to travel to a patient‘s residence, she was injured in a motor vehicle accident. The employer’s written policy required employees who use their personal automobile in carrying out their job responsibilities (i.e. travel to and from patient visits and other related work) to maintain liability insurance of $100,000/$300,000 for their vehicle and further required employees to be on-call and available to travel to patients’ homes as needed.
The employer denied Ms. Dugger’s claim, contending that the injury did not occur in the course of her employment. She sought temporary benefits from the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims, but she was denied the requested benefits. Upon remand to the trial court by the Appeals Board, her employer filed a motion for summary judgment on the issue of compensability, supported by a set of agreed facts submitted by the parties. The trial court granted the employer‘s motion and entered an order dismissing the employee‘s claim.
Ms. Dugger appealed directly to the Supreme Court, as permitted by Tennessee Code Annotated sections 50-6-225(a)(1) (2014) and 50-6- 239(c)(7) (2014). The appeal was referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51.
The Supreme Court reversed the holding of the trial court, holding that the unique facts of this case fall within the general exception to the coming and going and coming rule. Our Supreme Court has stated that, if the journey itself is a substantial part of the services for which the employee was employed and compensated, then an accident which occurs on that journey is compensable. Finding that the injury in this case was compensable, the delivery of nursing services to patients in their homes is the most important feature of HHC’s business, and having employees traveling to its patients’ homes is an essential component of that service, secondary only to the actual health care which is provided. As such, the Court held that the employee was acting within the course of her employment with the employer at the time her injuries were sustained.
Jared S. Renfroe is an attorney for Spicer Rudstrom PLLC. He focuses his legal practice on litigation throughout Tennessee. His concentrates primarily in premises liability, business and commercial representation, employment practices litigation, professional liability, insurance defense and workers’ compensation.