Workers’ Compensation for Employees in Transit

There are some Spartanburg workers’ compensation claims in which establishing causation or employer liability is fairly simple. These are cases where the worker was clearly at the job site, on the clock and suffered injury in the midst of the work day.
However, in situations where employees travel or are in between job sites, the question of whether an injury is compensable becomes more complex. Motor vehicle travel is one of the most dangerous modes of transportation, so it’s unsurprising that we see so many disputed workers’ compensation claims arising from these scenarios.

In the case of Carson v. State ex rel., Wyo. Workers’ Safety & Comp. Div., the issue before the Wyoming Supreme Court was whether injury and death sustained in a car accident had occurred in the course of employment.

According to court records, two workers employed by a mortgage firm were traveling to a meeting to discuss a mortgage. On their way, they were involved in a serious crash. The passenger was killed. The driver sustained serious head injuries and was in a coma for a month.

The wife of the surviving employee applied for workers’ compensation benefits. However, the state workers’ safety and compensation division rejected the claim, finding that she had failed to show the injuries her husband had sustained in the crash arose out of and in the course of his employment with the mortgage company. The claim was contested, but the denial was upheld on appeal.

Eight months later, a jury in a federal wrongful death claim brought by the passenger of that car against the driver found that he had been acting within the course and scope of his employment. Thus, a judgment was entered solely against the mortgage company in favor of the passenger’s widow.

On the basis of the civil court case filing, the driver filed a motion to reopen his work injury benefits claim. He argued that newly-discovered evidence indicated that he was in fact acting within the course of his employment that day.

The motion was denied by the state division without hearing. He appealed to the district court, which ordered the division to reopen the claim. In response, the division appealed to the high court. The state supreme court found that the division had to have a hearing to consider the motion. It did, and still rejected the claim. The appeal went back again to the state supreme court.

The court weighed heavily the fact that there was no documentation to back the claim that the pair were on a work-related trip. There had been no mortgage loan application filled out, there had been no good faith estimates completed and the employer had not been made aware of the trip. Although the individuals with whom the mortgage was reportedly going to be discussed affirmed the claimant’s account, the court indicated they had motivation to assist him in his claim, as they maintained personal and business relations with the claimant’s father-in-law.

In its review, the court found that the lower courts had not made an error when refusing to apply collateral estoppel. The earlier verdict was affirmed.

Some examples of cases where traveling employees would be likely be entitled to workers’ compensation claims:

  • Running an errand for your boss;
  • Making deliveries;
  • If you travel for work and have no fixed office space;
  • If you are paid for the time you travel;
  • If you drive for a living;
  • If you are transporting another employee.

Each case is going to be different. It’s important to carefully weigh your options with an experienced attorney.

If you have been injured at work in Spartanburg, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Carson v. State ex rel., Wyo. Workers’ Safety & Comp. Div., March 31, 2014, Wyoming Suprem Court

More Blog Entries
Employers Seek to Reduce Workers’ Compensation Costs, March 29, 2014, Spartanburg Work Injury Lawyer Blog

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