Are Lunch Break Accidents Covered by Workers’ Comp? Coleman v. Metro Emergency Operations Center of Kanawha County

A worker who is unable to work because of an injury or illness suffered on the job is generally entitled to workers’ compensation benefits covering missed wages and medical costs. As West Virginia’s Supreme Court recently made clear, however, judges are likely to define “on the job” narrowly.

brown-bag-1130082-m.jpgMs. Coleman was working as a dispatcher for the Kanawha County emergency operations center when she was injured in a car accident. According to the Court, Coleman was returning to work from lunch when her car collided with a fence. A workers’ compensation claims administrator denied Coleman’s benefits claim, finding that her injuries didn’t happen during the course of her employment.

The state Workers’ Compensation Office of Judges affirmed that decision, explaining that the accident didn’t happen on emergency operations center property. Although an operations center report of the injury indicated that the crash had indeed occurred on operations center property, Coleman later stated that it actually happened on a public road near the property entrance. Reports from other witnesses also indicated that Coleman hadn’t entered the property when the collision happened.

The Office of Judges further found that the accident didn’t occur within Coleman’s “zone of employment.” Relying on the state Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Williby v. West Virginia Office of Insurance Commissioner, the Office of Judges concluded that Coleman wasn’t furthering her employer’s mission at the time. The Office noted that she said she was returning from lunch and had run errands to the bank and post office. A Board of Review later reached the same conclusions.

The Supreme Court affirmed the decision with little comment. It appears to have favored the Office of Judges’ comparison of Coleman’s situation to that in Williby, in which a bank clerk was injured when she tripped and fell in the middle of a road outside her workplace while grabbing lunch during a 15-minute break. The clerk was denied workers’ compensation benefits.

“Under West Virginia’s ‘going and coming’ rule, this Court has held that an injury or death occasioned to an employee while going to or coming from work, and which occurs while he or she is not on the premises of the employer, is not compensable,” the Supreme Court explained in Williby. While the Court further noted that there may be unidentified “special circumstances” in which the rule may not apply, it apparently found that those circumstances weren’t present in Coleman’s case.

Despite this ruling, workers injured on the job – or traveling to and from work – have a wide array of legal tools available to them. In this case, for example, Ms. Coleman may have a suit against another driver, the government agency responsible for maintaining the road where the crash occurred, or the manufacturer of her car.

The West Virginia workers’ compensation attorneys at the Wolfe Law Firm have been serving clients throughout the state in a broad range of personal injury cases for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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