Many people in Virginia may think using a cell phone at work is not an accident like a fall or like a back injury caused by lifting a box. Virginians may also think you cannot get workers’ compensation for just using a cell phone at work.
However, a recent case in Virginia has
indicated in some circumstances using a cell phone can be an "accident" under
workers’ compensation law in Virginia. In an October 4, 2011 decision of the Virginia Court of
Appeals called Wythe County Community Hospital v. Turpin the court faced the cell phone accident
issue. Turpin, a nurse, kept a cell phone in her car for use at work. She was traveling between work
sites on a mountain road when her cell phone rang. She reached for the cell phone which caused her
to be distracted. She then skidded on the road and crashed her car and suffered an injury. The issue
the Court had to decide is whether Turpin’s reaching for the cell phone was a work risk caused
by her employment with the Hospital.
In a 2-1 decision, the Court said Turpin’s
accident did arise out of her employment with the Hospital. The Court decided Turpin had to monitor
her employer calls on the cell phone while she was working. Her attentiveness to the cell phone
caused her to be distracted and caused her motor vehicle accident.
The dissenting judge
would not have awarded compensation. He said there was no proof the telephone call came from her
employer. He said even though Turpin had dedicated her phone to only receiving telephone calls from
her employer the accident causing telephone call could have come from elsewhere.
case shows in Virginia in some circumstances use of a cell phone can cause an accident which can
result in workers’ compensation benefits. Even though Turpin may have been negligent in
causing her car accident, her negligent act did not prevent her from receiving compensation because
she was trying to an act required by her employment.
In summary, there may be peculiar
circumstances involving your use of a cell phone at work that can result in a compensable
workers’ compensation case. Certainly, if you are on a personal telephone call, you cannot
expect to recover workers’ compensation benefits. But if you can show a connection between the
cell phone call and your work you may recover as did Nurse Turpin.
Jerry Lutkenhaus has been a practitioner of Virginia Workers Compensation law in the
Richmond, VA for over 35 years. He was given an "AV" rating by Martindale-Hubbell in 2003.
Richmond Magazine has listed Mr. Lutkenhaus as one of the best lawyers in central Virginia. There is
more information at www.virginiadisabilitylawyer.com or www.geraldlutkenhaus.com. In 2010 he was given
AVVO's highest rating of "superb" in their system. http://www.avvo.com/att
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