Injured while Traveling for Work? Why You Need Legal Help
What is an employer’s legal responsibility to its employees when they are on the road for business?
If you are attending a conference for work and you take a header on an icy sidewalk stepping into your Lyft or Uber, can you expect your employer to pay for your medical care? Consider the case of the Parisian railway company that sent an employee on a business trip to central France. While on the road, the (apparently) lonely man engaged in some extra-marital hanky-panky with a stranger in his hotel room – and died of a heart attack while in the act. Guess what? A Paris court ruled the death a workplace accident and that his family was entitled to benefits.
We are not making this up: a man who died of a heart attack while doing lé nasty was technically in the services of his employer at the time, or so French law ruled. (You can read more about this story here.)
We’ve not heard of any case in Illinois as unusual as the story of the heart attack in a hotel room. But the issue of an employer’s responsibility when people are hurt on the job while traveling is controversial enough that the Illinois courts and the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission have needed to get involved to settle disputes.
It’s not always clear when employees in transit – whether traveling abroad or locally – are operating in the services of their employer. In addition, the category of “traveling employees” is broad. It includes not only people who are traveling on business but home health care workers, traveling nurses, people in the trades who are working away from home for a while, and so on. Let’s look at a few examples of real cases involving employees in transit.
How a Game of Basketball Can Cause a Work-Related Death
A college access coordinator at Northeast Illinois University sustained a fractured shinbone while playing in a student/faculty basketball game. At the time, she was part of a group that provided workshops to Chicago Public Schools’ parents and students; as well as support through college and career exposure and engagement activities. Those activities included team-building such as sporting events at schools away from the central office. That’s what she was doing when she was injured playing basketball with students.
The injury required surgery and physical therapy. After completing physical therapy, she died suddenly. The cause of death was determined to be pulmonary thromboembolism (a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in one’s lungs), deep venous thrombosis of the right calf, and blunt force injuries of the right lower extremity.
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission ruled that when she was hurt, she was acting as a traveling employee – or an employee whose duties require them to travel away from their employer’s premises. The Commission concluded that the injury occurred while she performed an act that her employer might reasonably expect her to do as part of her assigned duties as a college access coordinator. The Commission noted that while playing in a student/faculty game was not mandatory – her participation was reasonable and foreseeable. Her family was awarded death benefits because her demise was connected to the injury.
This unfortunate case underscores a number of important points:
- A game of basketball in and of itself might not seem like a work-related injury to you – but it’s all about context. If you are playing a game of basketball while in the services of your employer, you may have suffered a compensable injury.
- No one told her explicitly that she had to participate in the basketball game.
- Her unfortunate death was not immediate – but it was related to the injury.
Fortunately for her family, they made no assumptions about whether a tragic death related to a basketball game was just bad luck or a compensable expense. You should make no assumptions, either: instead, always consult a qualified attorney.
Commuting to Work or Traveling for Work?
The below case illustrates how broadly defined the category of a traveling employee can be.
Maggie (as we will call her) was an employee of a janitorial company. Her duties involved cleaning churches, homes, and offices. She and her husband used a minivan provided by the company to travel to local job sites. Maggie also used the van for personal errands and compensated her employer for costs incurred in that capacity. One snowy December day, Maggie’s husband drove the work van to their home while on break between assignments. Maggie’s husband parked the van in the driveway of their home.
After their break concluded, Maggie returned to the van and prepared to head off to their next cleaning assignment. As she walked around the rear of the van, Maggie slipped, fell, and fractured her wrist. The injury required surgery. Her injury prevented her from performing her job again.
Maggie believed that her injury was in the services of her job making her eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Commission denied her benefits. The Illinois Appellate Court disagreed. Ultimately, the court ruled that she was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
This actual case came down to a few crucial details:
- The employer provided the van for Maggie and her husband to complete work assignments. Had Maggie and her husband been commuting to a place of employment, the injury might not have been considered work-related. But in this case, the employer provided her a means of transportation to and from work for the employer’s own benefit. So Maggie was considered to be a traveling employee when the accident occurred.
- The accident occurred in a public right of way. Maggie testified that the accident occurred adjacent to the driveway on a public sidewalk leading from the house to the driveway. The courts found her testimony sufficient to establish that the accident, which occurred on a public sidewalk, exposed her to the hazards of the street. The courts might have ruled differently had she slipped on her own property.
There are many nuances to this case – you can read more about it here.
One of the important takeaways is determining what exactly constitutes “travel.” You can get hurt traveling five miles just as easily as you can be injured 1,000 miles from home. Let an attorney help you.
These cases illustrate the importance of never assuming anything. In some instances, you don’t need to be on the property of your employer to suffer a work-related injury. And if you are injured in the services of your employer, you may be eligible for benefits even if you were playing basketball, climbing into a van on a snowy day, or getting a positive answer to the question: “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?”
Call Capron & Avgerinos
Call Capron & Avgerinos now at 800-535-4542 if you need help with a workers’ compensation case in Illinois or Iowa. As your Illinois and Iowa Injury Network, we are ready to assist you over the phone or in person. We perform our cases on a contingent fee basis, which means we are not paid unless you recover compensation for your claim. Call Capron & Avgerinos at 800-535-4542. Let us show how we can deliver results for you.