Can a truck driver who was injured on a customer’s property while on break and performing a personal errand collect workers’ compensation benefits?
An Arizona appeals court found that he could since he was injured while still within the course of his employment.
Injured while using forklift as transportation
Gordon McChesney was a truck driver for CRST International. His job for many years was to pick up large bales of cardboard at retail stores in the area of Phoenix, Arizona. This involved driving a flat-bed truck to each store, using a forklift to load the bales onto the truck and then taking the bales back to Phoenix for recycling.
On one day in April 2020, McChesney got a late start because his truck was being repaired. He arrived at the first store and loaded the bales onto his truck. He then took a quick break and drove the forklift he was using to the front of the store to buy biscuits for his two dogs at home.
Driving the forklift to the front of the store wasn’t an uncommon practice for CRST drivers, who used a sidewalk that ran along the store’s side as a route of a travel. While driving on the sidewalk, McChesney ran over a large rock that jolted the forklift and caused him to hit his head on the protective cage. The forklift swerved, and McChesney hit his head a second time.
McChesney stopped the forklift, got out and collapsed to the ground. A police officer happened to see the incident and called an ambulance. McChesney was taken to a local hospital, treated and released to go home. He filed a workers’ compensation claim, which the employer denied, arguing he was outside the course of his employment when he was injured.
Common practice despite ‘unwritten rule’
In court with an administrative law judge, CRST argued McChesney was on a personal errand while being prohibited from going into the store or using the forklift for transportation.
During the hearing, McChesney testified that he often used the forklift for transportation to the front of the store to buy food or drink. He told the judge that other drivers did the same thing and that there were no company rules against it. Several CRST managers testified that drivers were generally allowed to take breaks and go into stores for food and drink. However, they said there was an unwritten company rule that prohibited using forklifts for transportation. One manager admitted to using a forklift to drive to the front of a store for food or drink on more than one occasion.
The judge found that using a forklift to drive to the front of a store wasn’t “out of the ordinary” for CRST employees and that McChesney’s use of the forklift as transportation while on break wasn’t a clear violation of a work rule. For these reasons, the judge ruled the injury was compensable and awarded benefits.
No substantial deviation from normal employment
On appeal with the Arizona Court of Appeals, the court upheld the judge’s decision, noting that workers who are considered “traveling employees,” such as truck drivers, stay “within the course of employment absent conduct that is a ‘substantial deviation’ from that employment.”
In McChesney’s case, traveling to the front of the store while operating the forklift – even while on a break – wasn’t a substantial deviation from his employment since the evidence supported the fact it was common practice to do so.