A few inches of snow might signal a typical winter day in some states, but in the temperate South, a few flurries can wreak havoc. This was the case in Atlanta on Jan. 28, as citizens quickly realized the seemingly harmless snowfall was anything but. Thousands of people left work early and fled to their cars in an attempt to make it home before the light snowfall turned the roads into perilous paths of ice. The mass exodus of drivers simultaneously fleeing the city combined with the dangerous conditions caused disastrous traffic jams and more than 1,000 accidents.
Now that the disaster has ended, we can reflect back on the legality of the matter. Amid the praises of relief and gratitude expressed towards the kind souls who helped their fellow citizens during the catastrophe, there were also several cries of outrage. Many employees were enraged that companies didn’t think to close their offices, with some even blaming their employers for accidents they got into on their way home. This predicament raises the question: Can employers be held liable if employees get in weather-related accidents driving to or from work?
Breaking down the law
The Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act defines “injury” as any accident arising out of, and in the course of, employment. This means, in order to receive compensation from an employer, an employee must prove two things: first, that the injury they sustained arose out of the employment, meaning there is a causal connection between the conditions under which the work was required to be performed and the resulting injury; and second, that the employee was engaged in that employment at the time the injury occurred. An injury is only compensable if it satisfies both of these distinct criteria.
The first criterion, requiring that an injury “arises out of” the employment, is not met if the injury was caused by a hazard to which the worker would have been equally exposed apart from the employment. Typically, it is difficult to prove that an individual’s involvement in a weather-related accident arose directly out of their employment, and would have been avoided otherwise. The second criterion is often even more difficult to verify, as it requires a close examination of the time, place, and circumstances under which the accident took place. Generally, an injury occurring while an employee is traveling to and from work does not constitute “in the course of” employment, as required for compensation under the Act. Since employees are typically paid only from the time they arrive at an employer’s until the time they leave, their workday is deemed to not begin until they reach the employer—meaning an employee’s travel to and from work is not considered “in the course of” employment.
There are, however, specific circumstances that can cause an automobile collision to be a work related incident. For instance, if an employee was required to carry work items to and from home, that may cause the accident to be work related. There are other exceptions to the general rule that driving to and from work is not in the course of employment. If you are unsure and want to know your rights, talk to an expert.
Unfortunately, an employee injured during the Atlanta snow incident might have trouble bringing their case to court. It would be difficult to argue that the car accident was directly related to the employee’s work and, thus, that there was a connection between his or her employment and the accident. Sadly, in some cases involving weather-related accidents, we have no one to blame but Mother Nature.
Give the experts a call
If you believe you may have a case, read more about worker’s compensation here, and reach out to one of the many qualified lawyers at McAleer Law. We specialize in worker’s compensation cases, and have extensive experience in getting our clients the money they deserve. You can reach us at (404) 622-5337 or visit us at mcaleerlaw.com. Let McAleer Law win for you.