The “commercial traveler rule” can be open to interpretation

On Behalf of | Nov 27, 2023 | Workers' Compensation

A California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board panel has ruled in a case that has potential ramifications for anyone who drives as part of their job. The “commercial traveler rule” allows workers to receive workers’ comp for any injuries suffered while traveling if they’re doing so as part of their work for an employer. However, that’s not always as clear as it may seem.

That was evident in a case that involved a catering business hired to prepare and provide meals to forestry workers and firefighters at remote camps. An employee for the caterer drove his own vehicle between his home and various fire camps for months. He was injured in a car crash during this time and filed a workers’ comp claim. 

The employer claimed the commercial traveler rule didn’t apply

The employer and their workers’ comp insurer fought the claim, stating that the employee was on an unauthorized and personal trip when he was injured. Therefore, they argued, the commercial traveler rule didn’t apply because the travel wasn’t “arising out of employment” or occurring during the “course of employment” (known as AOE/COE).

The initial workers’ comp administrative law judge upheld the denial. However, the Appeals Board panel overturned it when he asked for reconsideration. 

Why the denial was overruled

The panel found that in this particular case, the employee’s travel, even though it was in his off hours between shifts, was a reasonable part of his employment since he was working away from home in remote locations. Therefore, it did fall under the commercial traveler rule.

While this is a rather unique situation, many workers’ compensation denials do involve situations that are unique in some way. Since some of the most serious work-related injuries occur in vehicle accidents, it’s always wise to have a written agreement with your employer regarding when driving is considered part of your job and when it isn’t. There’s often a big gray area there. 

Of course, most people don’t anticipate these things and find their claims denied based on technicalities or lack of specificity in their work agreements. If you’re facing a denial that you believe is unwarranted, it’s wise to get legal guidance.

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