I ran across a short article in our local paper that Supreme Court of Australia had denied workers’ compensation benefits to a government employee who was injured while having sex in her hotel room on a business trip. The article explained that the government employee was injured when a glass light fitting above the bed fell on her and injured her. The Australian Supreme Court ruled that the key question in the case was whether the employer had induced or encouraged the employee to engage in the activity that led to the injury, and concluded that the Australian government had not. You can look here for a longer explanation of the case.
I started thinking about whether the claim would have turned out the same way in Iowa. As a general matter you need to be engaged in duties on behalf of your employer at the time of your injury in order to receive work comp benefits.
However, Iowa work comp law has developed a different set of rules for employees who are traveling on behalf of their employer. Ward v. Numanco, File No. 50011677 (App. Dec., August 14, 2006) is an important case in which the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner summarizes the work comp law relating to traveling employees. The case explains that a worker whose job requires them to travel away from their employers premises are generally considered to be covered for workers’ compensation purposes continuously during the trip, except when there is a deviation for a personal errand.
Therefore, motor vehicle accidents while traveling to or from an out of town job are covered as work comp injuries. This includes accidents in which the injured employee was at fault for the collision. For example, if you rear ended another car that was stopped at a red light you almost definitely do not have a winning civil personal injury claim. However, if you were traveling on business at the time of this same rear end collision, you would be covered and eligible for workers’ compensation benefits even though the accident was your fault.
By contrast, if you are injured during your regular commute between your home and your job that is usually not considered to be a work injury under Iowa law.
There are also many examples of Iowa cases in which traveling employees were injured while they were out of town on a job, but not working at the time of the accident, and received work comp benefits. This includes situations such as:
1. A traveling worker who slipped and fell in a hotel lobby. This is another example of where the injured worker may have a better workers’ compensation claim than a civil personal injury claim against the hotel. Slip and fall accidents are frequently difficult for the injured person to win.
2. A traveling employee who is injured in a motor vehicle accident after the end of his work day while coming or going to a restaurant for dinner will also frequently be covered for purposes of Iowa workers’ comp benefits.
3. In a somewhat famous Iowa work comp case a traveling worker who was injured in a hotel bar fight also received Iowa workers’ compensation benefits. See Vandarwarka v. Pro Environmental Abatement, Inc., File No. 1303751 (App. Dec., 2002).
4. A traveling employee who was injured in a motor vehicle accident during a shopping trip at the end of the work day has also been awarded work comp benefits.
5. A construction worker who was on an out-of-town project for a long period of time was awarded workers’ compensation benefits for an auto accident which occurred over a weekend while he was traveling home to visit his wife.
Iowa law does provide that at a certain point injuries to a traveling employee will be so far removed from the job requirements and the usual necessities of eating and personal care that they will not be found to be covered as a work comp injury. A number of cases in which traveling employees were intoxicated and injured or killed in motor vehicle accidents have ruled that the employee was not entitled to work comp benefits.
There are not any Iowa cases dealing with the factual situation of the injured Australian government employee. However, my best estimate is that the Australian incident would be found to be a work comp injury if it occurred in Iowa.
The law on whether an injury to a traveling employee is covered or not covered for workers’ compensation purposes is continually evolving and changing. The cases involving workers injured while they are out of town also frequently hinge on the very specific facts of the case. Therefore, if you are injured while traveling for your employer you should talk to an experienced Iowa work comp lawyer to help determine whether you are entitled to benefits.