Special Assignment: the “going and coming rule” at play in Maine

October 26th, 2006 by Julie Ferguson

Yesterday, the Maine Supreme Court made a ruling in an interesting case related to the “going and coming” rule. It involved Justin Laliberte, an employee of VIP, Inc., who was returning from a weekend work project when his car veered off the highway and collided with another car, killing Nancy Spencer and injuring her husband and daughter. The Spencers are now suing VIP, Inc. and Laliberte for damages. Attorneys for VIP Inc have argued that, because this case was not work-related, Laliberte alone is the responsible party. Yesterday’s 3-2 ruling by the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that the collision was not work related, thus upholding workers compensation for Laliberte and clearing the way for the Spencer’s lawsuit against VIP Inc.
Employees who work at one fixed location are generally not covered by workers compensation should an injury occur during the normal commute back and forth to work. Although state law varies, this going and coming rule generally holds true – but the devil is in the details, as they say. Every state has some exceptions to the going and coming rule, and one fairly common exception is when an employee is on a “special assignment.” In this case, the employee was performing a service for his employer’s company-related special event at an off-site location, and he was remunerated $25 and tee-shirt.
This case is a bit ironic in that workers compensation generally protects an employer from lawsuits but, in this instance, the fact that the accident was work-related opens the employer to suit. Jim Pocius of Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin has a good article on Workers Compensation and Course of Employment that covers traveling employees and offers several common exceptions to the going and coming rule. In addition, we’ve covered similar issues a few times in the past – here are some related items: