Justices of the New Hampshire Supreme Court recently ruled the state workers’ compensation appeals board erred when it found not compensable the work injuries of a man who suffered severe injury during a truck accident that occurred while he was driving from a job site to the main shop.
Specifically, the board in Appeal of Brandon Kelly ruled the worker, who fell asleep at the wheel of that truck, had to show his weariness was work-induced. The worker, who suffered a leg amputation as a result of the crash, had allegedly failed to prove this, the board found.
But the state supreme court ruled this was not a prerequisite to receiving workers’ compensation, and there was no question the injury arose out of and in the course of worker’s employment. Thus, his employment was a substantial contributing factor in the injury, and he deserved to be compensated.
Our workers’ compensation attorneys in Atlanta recognize most people would look at a case like this on the surface and say the issue of compensation seems straightforward, particularly when we consider that negligence by employer need not be proven. However, this case shows employers and insurers put up a fight to limit liability however they can – and they sometimes succeed. Ultimately, the worker in this case prevailed. Having an experienced legal team aid in your case can make all the difference.
According to court records, worker was employed at a sheet metal company in 2012, and part of his job involved traveling to and from job sites in the company truck. One day in May 2012, worker left a job site in Massachusetts and set off for the shop in New Hampshire, where he intended to unload the truck. However, while he was driving, he fell asleep at the wheel. He hit a utility pole. As a result of the crash, the worker’s lower leg had to be amputated.
He sought workers’ compensation benefits, but the company’s insurance company denied the claim. A hearing was held, and the state department of labor awarded benefits. However, defendant insurer appealed that decision, and the appeals board denied the claim for benefits in a split, 2-1 ruling. The appeals board found that while the worker’s injuries occurred while he was acting in the course of his employment, they did not arise out of his employment. The board indicated the injury was the result of “mixed risk,” and the worker did not adequately prove that whatever abnormal weariness he might have suffered on the day in question was the result of his employment. (A “mixed risk” is one that involves both personal risk and employment risk that combine to result in injury; For example someone with heart disease dies of employment-related stress.)
When we talk about something occurring “in the course of employment,” it means the injuries occurred within the boundaries of time and space created by the terms of employment. Meanwhile, the phrase “arising out of employment” is in reference to the causal connection between the injury and the risks of employment. What this means is workers have to prove the injury resulted form a risk created by employment.
Although parties in this case agreed the injury happened in the course of employment, they disputed whether it arose out of his work.
The Supreme Court assumed for the sake of argument that this was a mixed risk case, but even so justices disagreed with the assertion the employee had to prove he was tired because of work. The board had classified the worker’s tiredness as a “personal risk,” and indicated he had to prove it was work-related. However, unlike other mixed-risk cases where injuries result from some medical condition, injuries here stemmed from a motor vehicle accident. The question of whether worker’s employment was a substantial factor in the injury then is clear: But for worker’s employment, he wouldn’t have been behind the wheel of a moving truck. Thus, his injuries did arise out of the course of his employment, and he should be duly compensated.
Workers who are somehow negligent in their own injuries should not assume they are barred from receiving workers’ compensation. Consult with an experienced attorney to learn more about your options.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.
Appeal of Brandon Kelly, March 20, 2015, New Hampshire Supreme Court
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Nealy v. Santa Monica – Workers’ Comp Request Granted While Discrimination Claim Denied, March 10, 2015, Georgia Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog