Safety and OSHA News

Traveling employee faints, is injured while driving: Can she get workers’ comp?

Employees usually don’t receive workers’ comp benefits for injuries suffered while traveling. But what if the nature of the job itself requires travel from one place to another? 

Lillie Miller worked as a licensed practical nurse for Horizons Health Services in Ohio. Her job required travel to her clients’ homes.

On Dec. 17, 2014, Miller was scheduled to travel to a client’s home in Cleveland. Miller lost consciousness at a stop light and crashed into a light pole, breaking her leg.

Doctors at the hospital said Miller suffered “a syncopal episode.” In other words, she fainted.

Miller applied for workers’ comp. The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Comp (BWC) denied her claim, and the Industrial Commission of Ohio ruled that Miller failed to show her injuries were suffered in the course and arising out of employment.

A state court agreed with the Industrial Commission. An Ohio appeals court recently took up the case on Miller’s request.

Increased risk?

Miller argued that the trial court was wrong when it found her conditions of employment didn’t increase the risk of injury when she struck a light pole.

The BWC argued Miller’s injuries were idiopathic, in other words, they “arose from circumstances particular to an individual employee, rather than out of a risk related to the employment.” In a previous case, the Ohio Supreme court stated, “For workers’ compensation purposes, idiopathic refers to an employee’s pre-existing physical weakness or disease which contributes to the accident.”

Idiopathic injuries aren’t usually covered by workers’ comp. For that to be the case, an employee must show that although the workplace conditions or environment didn’t cause the injury, the conditions or environment caused the employee to suffer worse injuries.

In this case, Miller argued the conditions of her employment significantly contributed to the risk of injury.

Miller referred to a previous case in which an employee suffered an epileptic seizure, fell and struck his head on a welding machine where he was working.

Miller argues hitting a light pole is similar to hitting one’s head on a welding machine.

However, the court disagreed with that argument. In the previous case, the welding machine was an added risk related to employment, according to the court, but the light pole was unrelated to Miller’s job. The light pole and road on which Miller traveled didn’t add any risk or hazard.

The appeals court said Miller’s injuries resulted from her syncopal episode alone, therefore they didn’t qualify for workers’ comp benefits.

What do you think about this decision? Let us know in the comments.

(Lillie Miller v. Horizons Health Services LLC, Court of Appeals of Ohio 8th Dist., No. 104423, 2/9/17)

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Comments

  1. If ones job requires them to be out on the road to travel from one location to another, the travel is then related to the work environment. The hazards associated with travel including road conditions, weather and other hazards would then be an extension of the workplace. If an employee suffers an injury during the course of their work routine at what would be a task associated with their work then the resulting injury should be covered by workers compensation.

  2. I disagree with the appeals court decision.

    While it is true that her preexisting condition caused the syncopal episode, it was her work requirements that placed her on the road and route she was on during the event. She was functioning in the discharge of her normal duties, rather than on the road for vacation or other personal reasons.

  3. I agree with the courts. Not to mention that the episode she had was more than likely a result of underlying health issues and could have presented at any time, other than during work hours.

  4. Herb Deaton says:

    I have to agree with the courts. It is easy to confuse OSHA recordable standards with work comp issues. The facts presented indicate an underlying medical condition that may never have been made manifest before. Had this individual been an insulin dependent diabetic that took her insulin as prescribed but failed to eat, causing her blood glucose to drop and had the same type of reaction (loss of consciousness) , would that have been under the control of the employer? The resounding answer should be no. We can be empathetic with this individual because of the injury sustained as a result of the accident, and to that extent we can all agree. However, that does not change the overall facts of the incident (underlying and possibly unknown medical condition) nor does it make this a workers compensation claim.

  5. Tom Siverly says:

    Perhaps Miller’s medical costs were in fact more appropriately covered by her Health Insurance carrier and not Comp. That said, we don’t know details of her working relationship with Horizon, the employer. Did she own the car, was she reimbursed mileage, was insurance required, paid by hour or by visit, etc. what if this accident occurred while making a personal errand, on way to the next home? If I’m injured in a car accident driving to work, comp clearly does not apply. Seems the same with Miller driving from one client home to another.

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