Safety and OSHA News

Traveling worker gets sick, drives home, crashes truck; can he get workers’ comp?

Traveling employees are sometimes eligible for workers’ comp if they’re injured on a trip that benefits their employer. Was that the case for this truck driver? 

Gural Hensley was employed as an over-the-road truck driver by First Class Services Inc. When he wasn’t driving for First Class, Hensley kept his truck at home at all times except when took it to the company’s terminal for service.

He called the dispatcher from his home to received assignments and left on his route from home. When his route was finished, he returned home with the truck. His usual route was from Frankfort, KY, to Ada, OK. His home was closer to his route’s starting point than the First Class terminal, so keeping a truck at home provided a benefit to the company – it reduced fuel, wear and tear, and maintenance costs.

On Nov. 15, 2012, Hensley became ill while returning to Kentucky from a delivery. He called First Class to let them know he wasn’t feeling well. The company said it would send another driver to take the tanker for routine cleaning. Hensley was on his way home in his truck without the trailer when his truck left the road and crashed into trees. Hensley suffered multiple injuries.

When he applied for workers’ comp benefits, First Class argued Hensley was on a purely personal mission when he crashed. Hensley argued he was a traveling employee and that returning home, even due to illness, was a work activity.

The Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Board ruled in Hensley’s favor. It cited a previous Kentucky Supreme Court ruling which said:

“The traveling employee doctrine considers an injury that occurs while employee is in travel status to be work-related unless the worker was engaged in a significant departure from the purpose of the trip.”

The Board found Hensley’s work placed him in the location he was in at the time he became ill and that he didn’t depart from the purpose of the trip. The Board concluded:

“A mere deviation from his usual employment due to an illness would not negate the fact Hensley was still working until he returned home.”

First Class appealed the Board’s decision, and a state court recently ruled in Hensley’s case by affirming the Board’s decision. The question before the appeals court was whether the Board properly ruled in Hensley’s favor that he was providing a service to First Class and was entitled to traveling employee status at the time of his crash.

The appeals court agreed keeping a truck at home provided a benefit to First Class (reduced costs). Since Hensley’s route began and ended at home, returning home early because of illness wasn’t a significant departure from that routine.

The court ruled he should receive workers’ comp benefits.

(First Class Services Inc. v. Gural W. Hensley, Kentucky Court of Appeals, No. 2016-CA-001367-WC, 10/13/17)

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Comments

  1. John McNeilly says:

    It isn’t mentioned whether it was a factor or not, but DOT regulations prohibit someone from driving if they are ill enough to affect the safety of their driving. One can presume that the crash was caused by being ill, driving while ill is prohibited, and therefore the employee was negligent in continuing to drive and in endangering himself and the public. Had the company known the extent of this employee’s illness, and that safety obviously was being compromised, they might have acted to stop the truck sooner and get a replacement driver in that truck in order to facilitate a ride home for the ill driver, thus avoiding the crash.

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