Iowa Court of Appeals Issues New Decision on the Coming and Going Rule

The Iowa Court of Appeals recently reviewed several exceptions to the going and coming rule. In Seaman vs. Burgess Health Center, Mrs. Seaman died tragically on her way to work. The agency determined that she was not injured while in the course of her duties. Therefore, it barred her widower’s action for death benefits and funeral expenses. 

On appeal, the widower argued that there was a causal injury between her death and her work with Burgess Health Center. According to the going and coming rule, injuries occurring off the employer’s premises while the employee is on the way to or from work are not compensable. However, the court does make several exceptions. Of those, the widower argued that the special errand exception, dual purpose exception, and second business situs exception applied. 

The special errand exception applies when an employee is injured away from the employer’s premises during a special errand or mission for their employer. The dual purpose exception applies when an employee is injured off the premises while making a trip that serves both personal and business purposes. To apply this exception, the employee would have had to make the trip even if it did not coincide with the business purpose. The widower argued that both exceptions applied because his wife was on her way to work to deliver completed patient reports. He argued that the reports were time sensitive and she would be reprimanded if she did not deliver them. However, the court found no facts that would make the agency’s finding that she did not have to provide the reports that day illogical or unjustified. Therefore, neither the special errand exception nor the dual purpose exception applied. 

Finally, the widower argued that the business situs exception applied. The business situs exception applies when the employee’s home serves as a secondary office. While the Iowa Supreme Court has not officially adopted this exception, other courts state that it applies when it finds a large amount of work performed at home, continuing presence of work equipment at home, or special circumstances of the particular employment that make it necessary and not personally convenient to work from home. A great example of this occurs when a woman must work from home due to pregnancy. Although Mrs. Seaman did some work at home in the evenings to complete reports, she never saw clients at home, Burgess Heath Center never required her to work from home or paid for mileage to and from work. Mrs. Seaman did not have equipment at home. Based on these facts, the court could not find the agency’s finding that the exception did not apply wholly irrational. Therefore, the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the decision that Mrs. Seaman’s estate was barred from workers’ compensation benefits.

This case serves as a great review for employers in determining which tasks will invoke the exceptions to the going and coming rule. More importantly, while the court did analyze the case under the business situs exception, it still did not adopt it. As such, Iowa remains one of the twenty-eight states that still have not adopted that specific exception.