EX PARTE SHELBY CTY. HEALTH CARE AUTHORITY

Decision Date30 August 2002
Citation850 So.2d 332
PartiesEx parte SHELBY COUNTY HEALTH CARE AUTHORITY d/b/a Shelby Medical Center. (In re Debra L. Britt v. Shelby County Health Care Authority d/b/a Shelby Medical Center).
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Mark W. Lee and Dorothy A. Powell of Parsons, Lee & Juliano, P.C., Birmingham, for petitioner.

James M. Patton of Patton & Veigas, P.C., Birmingham, for respondent.

BROWN, Justice.

Shelby County Health Care Authority d/b/a Shelby Medical Center (hereinafter referred to as "the Hospital") appeals from the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals reversing in part the Shelby Circuit Court's judgment in its favor. See Britt v. Shelby County Health Care Auth., 850 So.2d 322 (Ala.Civ.App.2001). This Court granted the Hospital's petition for certiorari review to decide a question of first impression: whether an employee who falls asleep and is injured in an automobile accident while driving her personal vehicle home after having worked two 16-hour shifts with an 8-hour break between shifts can sustain a workers' compensation claim or negligence and wantonness claims against her employer. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

Facts and Procedural History

In 1995, Debra L. Britt was employed at the Hospital as a respiratory technician; she worked weekend double shifts—16 hours on Saturday and 16 hours on Sunday, with an 8-hour break between shifts. On February 26, 1995, Britt completed her second 16-hour shift for the weekend. Because Britt had complained of a bad headache that evening, some of her friends from work offered to drive her home. Britt refused their offers and attempted to drive herself home. As she was driving, Britt fell asleep and was seriously injured when her car crossed the median and overturned.

On February 24, 1997, Britt filed an action against the Hospital, asserting a workers' compensation claim and a claim alleging that the Hospital negligently and/or wantonly failed to maintain a safe workplace. The Shelby Circuit Court entered a summary judgment in favor of the Hospital on Britt's negligence and wantonness claims on October 6, 1998, and Britt's workers' compensation claim went to trial. After a bench trial, the court entered a judgment in favor of the Hospital on June 7, 2000, finding that Britt's claim was not covered by the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, § 25-5-1 et seq., Ala.Code 1975 (hereinafter referred to as "the Act").

Britt appealed the trial court's judgments to the Court of Civil Appeals. That court affirmed the trial court's judgment as to the workers' compensation claim, but reversed the trial court's summary judgment as to Britt's negligence and wantonness claims.

Analysis
I.

The Hospital contends that the Court of Civil Appeals erroneously determined that Britt's injuries were not covered under the Act. Specifically, the Hospital argues that Britt's injuries arose "from a cause originating in [her] employment," and, thus, that they are covered by the Act; however, the Hospital asserts that Britt's injuries are not compensable under the Act. Because the relevant facts in this case are undisputed, the ore tenus rule does not apply to the trial court's ruling.

"`"[W]hen a trial court sits in judgment on facts that are undisputed, an appellate court will determine whether the trial court misapplied the law to those undisputed facts."' Harris v. McKenzie, 703 So.2d 309, 313 (Ala.1997)(quoting Craig Constr. Co., Inc. v. Hendrix, 568 So.2d 752, 756 (Ala.1990)). The ore tenus `standard's presumption of correctness has no application to a trial court's conclusions on questions of law.' Beavers [v. Walker County, 645 So.2d 1365, 1372 (Ala.1994).] `[O]n appeal, the ruling on a question of law carries no presumption of correctness, and this Court's review is de novo.' Ex parte Graham, 702 So.2d 1215, 1221 (Ala. 1997)."

Rogers Foundation Repair, Inc. v. Powell, 748 So.2d 869, 871 (Ala.1999).

We agree with the Court of Civil Appeals that the injuries resulting from Britt's car accident, which occurred while she was driving home from work, are not covered under the Act. Section 25-5-31, Ala.Code 1975, provides that an employee has the right to pursue an action under the Act for injuries "arising out of and in the course of his employment." "The phrases [`arising out of' and `in the course of'] are not synonymous; where both are used conjunctively a double condition has been imposed, and both terms must be satisfied in order to bring a case within the act." Union Camp Corp. v. Blackmon, 289 Ala. 635, 639, 270 So.2d 108, 111 (1972) (quoting Wooten v. Roden, 260 Ala. 606, 610, 71 So.2d 802, 806 (1954)). See also Kewish v. Alabama Home Builders Self Insurers Fund, 664 So.2d 917 (Ala.Civ.App.1995); Grider v. McKenzie, 659 So.2d 612 (Ala. Civ.App.1994); Alabama Power Co. v. Mackey, 594 So.2d 1238 (Ala.Civ.App. 1991).

"Whether an accidental injury `arises out of' the claimant's employment is basically a question of whether there is a causal relationship between the claimant's performance of his or her duties as an employee and the complained-of injury." Ex parte Trinity Indus., Inc., 680 So.2d 262, 266 (Ala.1996). "An injury to an employee arises in the course of his employment when it occurs within the period of his employment, at a place where he may reasonably be, and while he is reasonably fulfilling the duties of his employment or engaged in doing something incident to it." Anderson v. Custom Caterers, Inc., 279 Ala. 360, 361, 185 So.2d 383, 384-85 (1966)(citing Southern Cotton Oil Co. v. Bruce, 249 Ala. 675, 32 So.2d 666 (1947)). Section 25-5-1, Ala.Code 1975, states that the clause "injuries by an accident arising out of and in the course of the employment" "does not cover workers except while engaged in or about the premises where their services are being performed or where their service requires their presence as a part of service at the time of the accident and during the hours of service as workers."

Generally, Alabama law has held that injuries sustained in accidents that occur while an employee is traveling to and from work are not covered under the Act because those injuries do not meet the "arising out of and in the course of employment" requirement. See Hughes v. Decatur Gen. Hosp., 514 So.2d 935 (Ala. 1987); Exchange Distrib. Co. v. Oslin, 229 Ala. 547, 158 So. 743 (1935); Tucker v. Die-Matic Tool Co., 652 So.2d 263 (Ala. Civ.App.1994); Walker v. White Agencies, Inc., 641 So.2d 795 (Ala.Civ.App.1993); Terry v. NTN-Bower Corp., 615 So.2d 629 (Ala.Civ.App.1992); Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. v. Smallwood, 516 So.2d 716 (Ala.Civ. App.1987). Alabama courts have carved out only a few exceptions to this general rule:

"Such exceptions include situations where the employer furnishes the employee transportation or reimburses him for his travel expenses; where the accident occurs on the employer's property or on public property that is tantamount to the employee's ingress to and egress from the employer's property; or where the employee is injured crossing a public street between the main premises of the employer and the parking lot owned by the employer."
Terry v. NTN-Bower Corp., 615 So.2d at 631 (citations omitted). See also Meeks v. Thompson Tractor Co., 686 So.2d 1213, 1216 (Ala.Civ.App.1996). An additional exception to the general rule arises when an employee, during his travel to and from work, is engaged in some duty for his employer that is in furtherance of the employer's business. See Tucker v. Die-Matic Tool Co., 652 So.2d at 265.

Britt's injuries that resulted from her car accident did not occur at her place of employment, nor was she engaged in any duties of her employment when the accident occurred. Therefore, Britt's injuries did not meet the "in the course of [her] employment" requirement of the Act. Furthermore, none of the exceptions to the general rule are applicable to Britt's case. Britt was not reimbursed for the expenses of traveling to and from work; the accident occurred after working hours while she was driving her own automobile; the accident did not occur on the Hospital's property or on public property that is "tantamount to the employees' ingress to and egress from the employer's property"; and there is no allegation that she was engaged in some duty for the Hospital that was in furtherance of the Hospital's interests while she was driving home. Because Britt's injuries did not occur "in the course of [her] employment" as required by § 25-5-31, Ala.Code 1975, she may not bring a workers' compensation claim against the Hospital under the Act. Therefore, we affirm the Court of Civil Appeals' judgment insofar as it held that Britt may not maintain a workers' compensation claim for her injuries.

The Court of Civil Appeals further reasoned that because Britt's injuries were not covered under § 25-5-31, Ala.Code 1975, she was free to bring a tort claim against the Hospital. The Hospital argues that the Court of Civil Appeals wrongly decided this matter because, it argues, that court failed to address the Act's exclusivity provisions, §§ 25-5-52 and -53, Ala.Code 1975. Specifically, the Hospital maintains that those statutes prohibit Britt from maintaining a tort action against her employer for her injuries because, it contends, the cause of Britt's accident originated in her employment.

We agree with the Court of Civil Appeals' holding that Britt is not precluded from bringing a tort claim against the Hospital under the facts of this case. Our determination is based, however, not upon the fact that Britt's injuries are not covered by the Act, but upon the plain language of the exclusivity provisions. Section 25-5-52, Ala.Code 1975, provides:

"Except as provided in this chapter, no employee of any employer subject to this chapter ... shall have a right to any other method, form, or amount of compensation or damages for an injury ... occasioned by an accident ... proximately
...

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