If a worker’s injury is caused by a company truck crash after he fell asleep at the wheel, does the employee qualify for workers’ comp benefits?
Brandon Kelly worked for Advanced Sheet Metal in Hudson, NH. He traveled to job sites in a company truck.
On March 16, 2012, after working at one job site, Kelly left for the company shop where he would unload the truck. While driving, he fell asleep and hit a utility poll. As a result of the crash, his lower leg was amputated.
Kelly applied for workers’ comp benefits. His employer’s insurance company denied his claim. Following a hearing, the New Hampshire Department of Labor awarded benefits.
The company appealed to the state workers’ comp board (CAB) which denied the claim on a 2-1 decision. The majority ruled Kelly’s injuries did not arise out of his employment. The CAB found his injury was caused by a “mixed risk,” and that Kelly failed to prove his “abnormal weariness” was caused by his employment.
Kelly appealed, and the New Hampshire Supreme Court heard his case.
Risk increased by employment?
“Mixed risk” workplace injuries involve a personal risk and an employment risk which combine to result in an employee injury.
Example: A person with heart disease dies because of employment-related strain on his heart.
Not all mixed-risk injuries are compensable. To qualify, employment must also be a substantial contributing factor to the injury.
The state’s highest court didn’t agree with the CAB that Kelly had to “prove work-induced weariness as a prerequisite to receiving compensation in this case.”
“There can be no question that the injurious effects of falling asleep were increased by the environment in which [Kelly] found himself at the time he fell asleep – behind the wheel of a moving truck,” the court wrote in its opinion. “We have no difficulty concluding on this record, as a matter of law, that [Kelly’s] employment was a substantial contributing factor to the injury.”
The court noted allowing workers’ comp benefits in Kelly’s case would be “in accord” with decisions in other states, including Michigan and Oregon. Besides that, workers’ comp law isn’t based on fault. The court wrote:
“Even if we were to assume that [Kelly] was negligent in choosing to drive and in falling asleep while doing so, barring recovery on that basis would be contrary to the remedial purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Law.”
The court ruled Kelly’s injury did arise out of his employment, therefore he should receive workers’ comp.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments below.
(Appeal of Brandon Kelly, The Supreme Court of New Hampshire, No. 2013-867, 3/20/15)