Labadie v. Norwalk Rehabilitation Services, Inc.

Decision Date05 July 2005
Docket Number(SC 17264).
Citation274 Conn. 219,875 A.2d 485
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Borden, Norcott, Katz, Vertefeuille and Zarella, Js.

Cynthia J. Coccomo, for the appellants (defendants).

Gregory S. Kimmel, for the appellee (plaintiff).



The sole issue in this certified appeal1 is whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that a home health care worker, who was required to travel to the homes of patients as a part of her employment, sustained an injury compensable pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (act), General Statutes § 31-275 et seq., when she was struck by a motor vehicle while crossing the street en route to the home of her first patient of the day. Labadie v. Norwalk Rehabilitation Services, Inc., 84 Conn. App. 220, 235-36, 853 A.2d 597 (2004). We conclude that the injuries of the plaintiff, Rose Labadie, are compensable under the act because travel was an integral part of the service that she was employed to provide. The plaintiff is, therefore, within the class of persons contemplated by the traveling employee exception to the "coming and going rule," under which "injur[ies] sustained on . . . public highway[s] while going to or from work [are] ordinarily not compensable." Dombach v. Olkon Corp., 163 Conn. 216, 222, 302 A.2d 270 (1972). We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The opinion of the Appellate Court sets forth the following undisputed facts and procedural history. "The plaintiff resided in an apartment building at 300 Tresser Boulevard in Stamford and was employed as a certified nursing assistant-home health care worker by both the defendant [Norwalk Rehabilitation Services, Inc.]2 and Atrium Homecare (Atrium). Both of her employers required the plaintiff to [provide health care services at] the homes of their clients. The plaintiff does not hold a Connecticut motor vehicle operator's license and [with her employer's knowledge and permission] routinely took a bus to the homes of the people to whom she provided health care services for the defendant. The defendant reimbursed the plaintiff for the bus fare she paid to travel from the home of one of its clients to another, but it did not reimburse the fare she paid to travel from her home to the day's first assignment or from the day's last assignment back home.

"From 7 to 9 a.m. on February 18, 1998, the plaintiff performed health care services for one of Atrium's clients, who happened to reside in the plaintiff's apartment building. At 9 a.m., she left 300 Tresser Boulevard and walked to a bus stop where she boarded a bus to travel to the home of one of the defendant's clients on Knickerbocker Avenue in Stamford. The client on Knickerbocker Avenue was the first client of the day for whom the plaintiff was scheduled to provide the defendant's services. She alighted from the bus on Hope Street and, as she crossed that street, was struck by a motor vehicle. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff sustained serious injuries to her arms and leg.

"The plaintiff [thereafter] filed a claim pursuant to the [act] . . . seeking benefits afforded by the act. She named the defendant as the respondent. [In response] [t]he defendant filed a form 43 denying the plaintiff's claim on the ground that the plaintiff was not injured during the course of her employment.

"In his finding and award, the [workers' compensation commissioner (commissioner)] adopted the parties' stipulation of facts and also found, on the basis of the plaintiff's deposition testimony, that she rarely went to the defendant's place of business in Norwalk, and that she received her assignments via telephone at her Tresser Boulevard home, where she also completed paperwork and received her paychecks. She filed her reports by mail. [Based on this testimonial evidence] [t]he commissioner concluded that the plaintiff's home was tantamount to a satellite office of the defendant." Labadie v. Norwalk Rehabilitation Services, Inc., supra, 84 Conn. App. 222-23.

Additionally, the commissioner found that "[t]he plaintiff was required to use the public highways to attend to her duties for the defendant, which was for the defendant's benefit. The commissioner also found that it was unclear whether the plaintiff was reimbursed for her travel from 300 Tresser Boulevard to the home of the defendant's first client of the day. The commissioner concluded that the plaintiff was injured in the course of her employment and that she had sustained a compensable injury.

"The defendant [then] filed a motion to correct the commissioner's finding, asking the commissioner to delete his finding that the plaintiff's home was tantamount to a satellite office and that it was unclear [whether] the defendant reimbursed the plaintiff for travel to the first appointment of the day. The defendant also asked the commissioner to dismiss the claim because the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that she had sustained a compensable injury. The commissioner denied the motion to correct. The defendant [thereafter] appealed to the [workers' compensation review board (board)], asserting that the commissioner improperly denied the motion to correct and . . . the award was contrary to the board's existing decisions.

"In an opinion dated June 21, 2001, the board sustained the defendant's appeal, concluding, among other things, that the commissioner had applied improperly the `coming and going rule'; see Lake v. Bridgeport, 102 Conn. 337, 342-43, 128 A. 782 (1925); and the `benefit test'; id., 343; to the facts of this case. It remanded the case to the commissioner, however, with direction to conduct further proceedings to determine whether the plaintiff's home was a satellite office and to consider the legal significance of the plaintiff's having cared for one of Atrium's clients prior to setting out for the defendant's client on Knickerbocker Avenue.

"On remand, the commissioner addressed the three indicia of an established home workplace cited in the board's decision . . . [and] found that regardless of whether the plaintiff performed duties for the defendant at her home, the amount of time she spent doing it was about fifteen minutes a month, which was not a substantial quantity of time. [Additionally] [t]he plaintiff kept no employment related equipment in her apartment, save a telephone. [Therefore] [t]he commissioner was unable to determine whether there were special circumstances of employment that made it necessary, rather than personally convenient, for the plaintiff to complete some of her duties in her apartment.

"As to the legal consequences of the plaintiff's having performed services for Atrium after leaving her apartment but prior to her leaving the apartment building, the commissioner found that the question concerned the parameters of his use of the term premises. He found that the plaintiff had not left the premises until she left the curb or lot line of 300 Tresser Boulevard. The commissioner thus concluded that the plaintiff had not deviated from her employment with the defendant.

"The commissioner also determined that the defendant did not reimburse the plaintiff for travel to and from her home, only for travel between the homes of its clients, which implied that the plaintiff was not in the course of her employment when she was traveling to her first appointment for the defendant. With regard to the `coming and going rule' and the `benefit test,' the commissioner concluded that because he had determined that the plaintiff's apartment was a satellite office, the rule and test did not apply. The defendant again filed a motion to correct, which the commissioner denied.

"The defendant once more appealed to the board, essentially claiming that the plaintiff's home was not a satellite office and that 300 Tresser Boulevard was not part of the premises of the satellite office, if one existed. The defendant further argued that the plaintiff's tending to the needs of the Atrium patient before departing for Knickerbocker Avenue was a deviation from her employment with the defendant. The board concluded, in an opinion dated June 3, 2003, that there was insufficient evidence to support the commissioner's finding that the defendant maintained a satellite office in the plaintiff's home or that the plaintiff had begun her workday for the defendant at the time she was injured. Accordingly, the board reversed the finding and award of the commissioner." (Citation omitted.) Labadie v. Norwalk Rehabilitation Services, Inc., supra, 84 Conn. App. 223-25.

The plaintiff thereafter appealed the decision of the board to the Appellate Court, claiming: "(1) that the board failed to abide by the applicable standard of review and (2) that the board improperly concluded that (a) at the time of her injury, she was not doing something incidental to her employment and for the benefit of the defendant, (b) her home was not tantamount to a satellite office of the defendant and (c) the defendant is not responsible for her injury due to her employment with another home health care agency." Id., 221. The Appellate Court concluded that the board had applied the proper standard of review, but had reached an incorrect result with respect to compensability of the injury. Id., 227. That court determined that the plaintiff's injury was compensable because the injury had occurred while the plaintiff was engaged in an activity integral to her employment. Id., 236. The Appellate Court, therefore, declined to reach the plaintiff's remaining two claims,3 and reversed the decision of the board. Id. This certified appeal followed.

On appeal, the defendant claims that the Appellate Court improperly concluded that the plaintiff's injury was compensable because it did not arise out of and occur in the course of her employment. Specifically, the defendant contends that compensation is barred by...

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