West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Claims and the ‘Zone of Employment’ – Commissioner v. Brewer

In a recent blog post, we discussed a West Virginia Supreme Court case in which the state’s high court ruled that a worker who was injured in a car accident while traveling back to work from her lunch break wasn’t entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Today, we bring you a case in which the Supreme Court held that a reclamation services supervisor is entitled to workers’ compensation for a car crash that happened while he was traveling between job sites. The difference? It’s all about what the high court calls a worker’s “zone of employment.”

repair-tool-set-1440641-m.jpgAs a supervisor for Eastern Arrow Corporation, Murphy’s job entailed traveling to different job sites to oversee reclamation services being performed by other workers. The accident occurred as Murphy was travelling from the company’s Sandy Hook job site to its Mount Storm job site. He ran his car into a stopped vehicle after reaching the top of a hill. The vehicle, which was stopped because of construction work, didn’t have its brake lights illuminated at the time. Murphy sustained a concussion, along with shoulder and back injuries, as a result of the collision.

A claims administrator denied Murphy’s request for workers’ compensation benefits, finding that the crash didn’t happen in the course of his employment. The Office of Administrative Judges later affirmed the decision. The Supreme Court eventually reversed the decision on appeal.

“West Virginia Code ยง 23-4-1 (2008) requires there be a causal connection between the duties of the injured worker’s employment and the injury before a finding of compensability can be made,” the Court explained. “An injury occurring while going to or from work, which occurs while not on the premises of the employer, is not compensable.” Despite that general rule, the Court said it previously observed in Calloway v. State Workmen’s Compensation that a worker required to travel as a condition of his or her employment is covered for accidents that happen during that travel. In other words, the Court said, such travel is within the worker’s “zone of employment.”

Here, Murphy was clearly within the zone of employment because he was traveling from one job site to another as part of his regular work day. While it may seem like a slight difference from the lunch break accident case, the worker in that matter simply wasn’t carrying out a work assignment at the time of her crash.

As a result, the Court concluded that the Office of Administrative Judges erred in finding that Murphy wasn’t entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The Court reversed the decision and remanded the case back to the OAJ for it to determine the extent of Murphy’s injuries.

As this case makes clear, there is often a fine line between a successful and unsuccessful workers’ compensation case. If you or a loved one has been injured on the job, the West Virginia workplace accident lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

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

West Virginia Supreme Court Finds That Speech Pathologist With Carpal Tunnel Eligible For Workers Compensation

West Virginia Supreme Court Affirms That Worker’s Lung Cancer Caused By Smoking, Not Asbestos