Safety and OSHA News

Fell asleep at wheel, crashed in company vehicle: Will he get workers’ comp?

An employee fell asleep at the wheel of a company vehicle on his way home from work. Was there enough connection between his trip and his work duties to get workers’ comp benefits? 

George Norris Jr. was driving home in a company vehicle from a job site in Powhatan County, VA, to his home when he dozed off, ran off the road and crashed into a tree. He suffered severe injuries that required hospitalization, surgeries and a long stay at an in-patient rehabilitation facility.

Norris sought medical benefits and temporary total disability from his employer (ETEC Mechanical Corp.) via workers’ comp. ETEC denied the claim.

A deputy commissioner determined Norris didn’t sufficiently prove a causal connection between his work, falling asleep behind the wheel, and the resulting crash and injuries.

The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission agreed with the deputy commissioner’s findings.

The question was whether Norris’s crash and injuries arose out of his employment.

Norris said he had a normal work week and hadn’t been on call before the crash. While his work was physical, he said his work the day of the crash wasn’t more strenuous or difficult than usual. Medical records also failed to show any reason why Norris fell asleep at the wheel.

The case went to the Virginia Court of Appeals. It noted that Virginia applies the “actual risk test” which says injuries arise out of employment “if the manner in which the employer requires the work to be performed is causally related to the resulting injury.”

Based on the actual risk test, the court agreed Norris didn’t establish the required connection between his employment and his injuries. The court noted Norris denied knowing what caused him to fall asleep. He testified he dozed off because he was tired, but he never connected his drowsiness to his employment.

Norris was denied workers’ comp benefits for his injuries suffered in the crash.

(George Norris Jr. v. ETEC Mechanical Corp.Court of Appeals of VA, No. 1054-18-2, 12/26/18)

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  1. I’ve commented recently that a lot of courts and administrators of Workers Comp are conflating the prerequisites that an injury take place “in the course of” and “arising out of”. This court obviously separated the two and came up with a correct response, in my opinion. A lot of companies have been put on the hook for 100’s of thousands of dollars in medical cost for injuries not related to their business and that they have no control over.

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