The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner issued an appeal decision on November 20, 2017 in the case of Kvidera v. Windows By Pella, Inc. and Selective Insurance Company of the Southeast. The case involved a claimant who was seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident while driving a work truck. The issue in the case was whether he had deviated from his employment duties to such an extent that he would no longer be eligible for workers’ compensation coverage.
Under Iowa law there is generally no work comp coverage for employees while they are commuting to and from work.
However, Iowa law does provide that a worker who is required to travel for his job does have workers’ compensation protection from the time they leave their home until they return to their home.
Additionally, Iowa law does provide that a traveling employee can deviate so substantially from their work function as to take themselves out of the course of employment and lose workers’ compensation coverage.
In the Kvidera case the claimant was a window technician who went to customers’ homes to fix their windows. The employer’s headquarters was in Waterloo. The claimant lived in Traer, Iowa and generally kept the work truck at his home.
Here is a summary of the claimant’s activities and travels on the date of the accident:
- The claimant drove from his home in Traer to a repair job in Iowa City.
- The claimant then drove from Iowa City a few miles north to North Liberty for two additional jobs.
- The claimant then drove from North Liberty about 50 miles west on Interstate 80 for a job in Brooklyn, Iowa.
- The claimant finished the repair job in Brooklyn, Iowa at 4:04 p.m.
- The job in Brooklyn was the claimant’s last scheduled job for the day. At that point his most direct route home was to drive about 40 miles north on Highway 63 to his home in Traer, Iowa.
- However, the claimant had accidentally left an 8” pry bar at one of the North Liberty jobs. The pry bar cost about $20.00. However, the claimant testified that it was a special pry bar and he felt it would be difficult to replace.
- Therefore, rather than returning directly home to Traer, the claimant drove 50 miles back to North Liberty to recover the pry bar.
- From North Liberty the claimant then began driving home on what would be the most direct route by driving north to Cedar Rapids on Interstate 380. His intent was to then drive west on Highway 30, and then head north on Highway 21 to his home in Traer. From North Liberty to his home was approximately 72 miles.
- The claimant stopped in Cedar Rapids to visit with his adult daughter for 10 to 15 minutes. The claimant gave his daughter some money for Christmas shopping. The Claimant’s visit with his daughter took him a few minutes off the most direct route to his home.
- The claimant then continued home by heading west on Highway 30. At this point the claimant was back on the most direct route home.
- Unfortunately, the claimant was involved in a very serious automobile accident on Highway 30 at approximately 5:59 p.m.
The employer and insurance carrier pointed out that when the claimant finished his last job in Brooklyn, Iowa at 4:04 p.m., he was only a 40 mile drive from his home.
The defendants argued that the claimant’s decision to go back for a $20.00 tool was a poor and cost ineffective idea. The claimant turned his 40 mile drive home into a 120 mile ride home, and ended up being in a collision at 5:59 p.m. If he had driven straight home after finishing his job in Brooklyn, Iowa, he would never have been on Highway 30, and would have been home long before the accident occurred at 5:59 p.m.
The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner decided that the claimant’s decision to drive back to North Liberty to retrieve his pry bar did not take him out of the course of employment; and he was entitled to receive work comp benefits for the motor vehicle accident. The Commissioner noted that claimant’s choice to go recover the pry bar may not have been a good business decision, but a poor decision should not deny the claimant workers’ compensation coverage. Additionally, once the claimant retrieved his tool in North Liberty, the route he was taking at the time of the accident was the shortest way back to his home in Traer.
If the claimant had been injured during his brief side trip to visit his daughter in Cedar Rapids, he might not have been entitled to workers’ compensation coverage. However, when the accident occurred the claimant was back on the most direct route from home after recovering his tool in North Liberty.
Please be sure to contact us if you have any questions about injuries to traveling employees, deviations from work routes, or any other Iowa workers’ compensation questions.