Mich.: Employee Using Company Truck Can’t Collect Comp Benefits

By Diane Cadrain Jan 15, 2015

A Michigan employee who happened to be using a company truck to drive to work was not injured in the course of his employment and therefore not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, the Michigan Court of Appeals decided.

William Little worked for Kappen Tree Service and was driving a company truck to work one day when he was hurt in an accident. Little was using the truck with the company’s permission that day, though he did so only occasionally during his employment with Kappen.

He filed for comp benefits but the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission decided that he wasn’t hurt in the course of his employment that day, despite the company truck, and therefore not eligible for benefits. Little appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

On appeal, the court noted that generally, injuries that take place while an employee is traveling to and from work are not compensable under the Michigan Workers' Compensation Act, but that there are many exceptions to this rule, including situations in which the employee is on a special mission for the employer; the employer derives a special benefit from the employee's activity at the time of the injury; or the travel comprises a dual purpose combining employment-related business needs with the personal activity of the employee.

Here, one of the insurers involved, Merchants Preferred Insurance Company, argued that these three exceptions applied.

On the first exception, the court stated that there was simply no evidence that Little was on a special mission on the day in question, and that the company truck was a favor granted to him that day rather than as a special instruction issued by Kappen Tree management.

On the second exception, the employer’s special benefit, the court said that to fall under this exception, the special benefit must truly be unique. “While it is true that Little was the only Kappen Tree employee capable of operating a particular crane, which allowed Kappen Tree to charge more for its services,” the court said, “that special benefit was enjoyed once Little arrived at work, not during his commute. If Little's special skill in operating the crane was sufficient to bring all of his travels within the special-benefit exception, the general rule would be rendered meaningless; any employee with a special or unique skill would be compensated for all travel to and from work that resulted in an injury.”

On the third exception, the court noted that it involves a benefit to the employer while also furthering some interest of the employee, and requires a court to balance the two. Here, the court said, Kappen Tree did not tell Little to make any business-related stops or detours as part of his travel in the company truck; he was merely allowed to use the truck for the personal purpose of getting to work and was not paid for travel time or reimbursed for mileage.

The court affirmed the decision of the Workers Compensation Appellate Commission.

Little v. Kappen Tree Service, Mich. Ct. App., No. 314346 (Dec. 11, 2014).

Diane Cadrain is an attorney who has been writing about employment law issues for more than 20 years.

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