Monday, January 26, 2015

Can you still get Virginia Workers' Compensation benefits if your motor vehicle accident was caused by use of a cell phone?

As most people are aware an increasing cause of motor vehicle  accidents is the driver being distracted by his or her use of a cell phone.

In the past, the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission has allowed coverage for injured workers who   have an accident caused by use of the company business cell phone while driving. The reason for compensability is the use of the cell phone is a risk of the employment.

However, the 2015 Virginia General Assembly almost ended this workers' compensation coverage. A bill was proposed making it a crime to drive a motor vehicle and use a cell phone at the same time. In Virginia it was already a crime for a teenager to use a cell phone while driving. The proposed bill would extend this prohibition to all adults. The bill did not pass. It was referred to a committee for more study.

If the bill had passed, it would probably be impossible to obtain workers' compensation benefits in Virignia if your motor vehicle accident was caused by cell phone use. This is so because the insurer would assert you cannot obtain benefits if you were committing a "crime" at the time.

This means the Turpin Case is still good law in Virginia. The Commission said in that case:

Commissioner Roger L. Williams issued the opinion for the Commission, ultimately deciding that the employer was liable for workers’ compensation and stated that it didn’t matter who footed the bill for the cell phone, what mattered in this case was Ms. Turpin’s duty to be attentive to the cell phone while on-call and that her attentiveness to the ringing cell phone and potential work-contact was enough to cause her to be inattentive to her driving. "There was no way the claimant would know, in advance, whether a particular call was employment related. She was required to answer her cell phone, and be attentive to it, because it could have been an employment-related call." Turpin v. Wythe County Community Hospital, VWC File No. 0000018-30-28, 5 (December 29, 2010).

In summary, in Virginia you can still hope to obtain workers' compensation benefits even though your motor vehicle accident was "caused" by use of a cell phone.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: call Jerry Lutkenhaus at (804) 358-4766 or 1(800) 256-8862 or visit our website at Virginia Workers' Compensation Lawyer.