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Massachusetts Claimant Denied Benefits for Injury on Street Controlled by His Employer

An employee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was denied benefits under the workers’ compensation statute, specifically G.L. ch 152, sections 13, 30, and 34, for temporary total incapacity resulting from an injury he suffered while commuting home from work on his motor scooter.

The administrative law judge (ALJ) cited the ‘going and coming rule’ to justify the decision, which was upheld by the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA). The rule usually exempts employers from liability for injuries to an employee while traveling to or from work.

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts in June 2014, affirmed, in Daniel J. Kelbe’s Case, No. 12-P-1776, while acknowledging that there are exceptions to the rule, such as the one that the claimant cited, that the street where he was injured was controlled by his employer.

The ‘going and coming’ rule is not hard and fast as to when employment begins and ends. It is generally accepted that injuries occurring on the employer’s premises or areas over which the employer has the right of passage, such as stairs and parking lots, are compensable. Compensability ends when the employee leaves the premises of the employer.

The claimant in this instance conceded that he signed out of work and had started on his way home on his motor scooter when the accident occurred. He encountered an MIT student, traveling at high speed on her bicycle, who entered the crosswalk in claimant’s path. To avoid hitting her, he ditched his motor scooter and injured his left foot and leg in the process. He was disabled from work for over a month.

Although he admitted that Ames Street, where the accident occurred, is a public street, he argued that Ames Street was still MIT’s ‘premises’ for purposes of compensation under the statute because MIT owns Ames Street, including the buildings on both sides, and takes responsibility for routine maintenance and snowplowing in winter. In addition, the first responders to the scene of his accident were members of MIT’s campus security patrol. He also contended that his only route home was via Ames Street.

The ALJ disagreed with his conclusions and some of his factual assertions. The judge found that the City of Cambridge was responsible for maintenance of Ames Street, including snowplowing, and also for enforcing parking and traffic laws. Any participation by MIT in these responsibilities was voluntary. Although MIT campus police were the authorized first responders to the claimant’s accident, the Cambridge police took over the investigation.

The judge also noted that the claimant’s travel route home did not in fact require him to take Ames Street. He not only had the option of using Main Street on the day of the accident, but he usually does so during the winter months when commuting by public transportation. When the accident occurred, it was late spring, and he most likely chose Ames Street because he had commuted to work via motor scooter and parked the scooter at an MIT building on Ames Street.

The ALJ found that the claimant had failed to establish that he had been on MIT’s premises when he was injured or that there was any basis for finding an exception to the ‘going and coming’ rule. Accordingly, his injuries were not compensable under the workers’ compensation statute.

If you are hurt at work, or commuting to or from work, you may be entitled to benefits to help you pay expenses related to your injuries. An experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney can evaluate whether you have a sound claim and fight to make sure that your employer and its insurer follow the rules or give you guidance if there is no insurance available. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.

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