Safety and OSHA News

Can traveling worker be denied workers’ comp benefits due to road rage incident?

This employee was injured when his vehicle was struck by a tractor-trailer. The injured employee had been traveling for work. But how does a reported road rage incident factor into this case? 

On Jan. 19, 2009, George Huey hurt his back in a car wreck while traveling through Alabama for RGIS Inventory Specialists. When Huey applied for workers’ comp benefits, RGIS said he wasn’t entitled to them because before the wreck he’d deviated from the course and scope of his employment by getting involved in a road rage incident.

Court documents say when Huey tried to change lanes on an interstate, his van nearly collided with a car driven by Edwin Crawley. The near miss forced Crawley to swerve and spin out off the interstate before regaining control of his car.

According to Huey, Crawley caught up to him on the road, passed him and moved into his lane. Crawley then slowed down and forced Huey to stop his van. The two cars were in the right lane of the highway when Huey’s van was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer.

A state trooper who responded said both Huey and Crawley admitted to him that they’d been driving aggressively.

Based on the trooper’s testimony, the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission found Huey had parked his van in the right-hand lane of the interstate as part of a road rage incident with Crawley. Therefore, the Commission found Huey had departed from the scope and course of his employment, so his injury wasn’t compensable. A state appeals court upheld the Commission’s decision.

Huey sought to reopen the case using “new evidence” obtained from the tractor trailer’s black box recorder. His argument: There was no road rage incident. He had pulled off the interstate because Crawley thought there was something wrong with his car and he wanted Huey to pull over. Huey hired an accident reconstruction expert who testified the tractor trailer’s black box showed Huey’s van wasn’t completely stopped when it was struck – it was still moving at 17 m.p.h. The expert disagreed with the state trooper’s conclusions in the case. Huey said that discrepancy called into question other aspects of the trooper’s report, and his case should be reconsidered.

The Commission denied to reopen the case. It said Huey’s new evidence was “not newly discovered evidence since the [black boxes] had been available for inspection since the date of the accident.”

Huey appealed the Commision’s decision not to reopen the case to a state appeals court.

The court noted the original decision in the case had been that Huey “engaged in a personal altercation for several miles along the Interstate” which “was found to be a deviation which removed [him] from the course and scope of employment.” The appeals court said the black box data and expert testimony “do not disprove the premise” of the Commission.

“The main issue in this case has always been whether Huey’s actions were part of a road rage incident, a deviation from the course and scope of his employment,” the court wrote. Since he failed to present something the court could consider as new evidence, it allowed the decision to stand. Huey would not receive workers’ comp benefits for his injury because the road rage incident took him out of the course and scope of his employment when he was traveling for his job.

(George Huey v. RGIS Inventory Specialists, Court of Appeals of the State of Mississippi, No. 2017-WC-00524-COA, 4/24/18)

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