In 2018, John Chrobagian was involved in a serious automobile accident in his company-provided vehicle. He was in field performing work for Ormco Corporation in servicing orthodontist accounts.
At some point in the day he engaged in a personal errand by stopping at a car dealership. From there he headed to his child’s school for pick up. While driving between these two locations Chrobagian was involved the serious vehicle accident and was injured.
He was a senior territory manager. The job duties required that he perform sales to existing accounts with orthodontists and develop new accounts as well within his territory covering primarily California and Nevada. He was not provided a fixed office location. Instead the employer provided a vehicle, cell phone and an email account.
He was expected to respond to any texts or emails through the cell phone/email account throughout the day. If he received a text or email while driving, he was expected to pull-over the vehicle and stop before responding to the text or email, or if applicant had a blue tooth connection, applicant could continue to drive and respond to the text/email, as long was such communication while driving complied with State law.
There was no prohibition on engaging in personal errands at the same time he was in the field performing his duties for the employer and that both can occur simultaneously.
The employer denied benefits claiming it did not occur in the course of employment. After a trial, the WCJ awarded benefits and found that the company vehicle as outfitted was for all intents and purposes a mobile office provided by the employer. He was at the beck and call of the orthodontists throughout the day and was expected to be at the ready to field any/all phone calls, texts and emails, wherever the applicant might be in an immediate manner.
The award was sustained in the panel decision of Chrobagian v Ormco Corporation, ( ADJ12278544 June 2021).
The going and coming rule is not applicable here because applicant was a salaried, mobile, regional sales person who essentially worked out of an employer provided vehicle. At the time of the injury, he was not engaged in a routine commute, to a fixed place of business, at fixed hours. Instead, he worked out of his vehicle making cell phone calls, sending and receiving emails, and driving throughout a large region that included California and Nevada to meet with clients.
Moreover, even if the going and coming were applied to applicant’s travel, the facts of this case bring it within several of the rule’s many exceptions. One of those exceptions consists of instances involving employer provided transportation.
In addition, the personal comfort doctrine holds that the course of employment is not broken by certain acts relating to the personal comfort of the employee, as such acts are helpful to the employer in that they aid in efficient performance by the employee. On the other hand, acts which are found to be departures effecting a temporary abandonment of employment are not protected.
Moreover, injuries sustained while the employee is engaged in an activity that has a dual purpose, which serves the business needs of the employer and the personal needs of the employee, occur in the course of employment.
Thus the WCAB panel agreed with the WCJ that the fact that applicant was injured while traveling between two personal errands did not remove him from the course of employment where he had already begun his work day as a mobile salesperson, working out of his employer provided vehicle, while available for any employment related communications, during compensated time.