Do injured workers need pre-authorization before using workers’ compensation benefits for Uber services to travel to and from medical appointments? No, they don’t, according to the Virginia Court of Appeals.
In a November 1, 2022 decision, the court found that an injured worker could be reimbursed for travel expenses to and from medical appointments via Uber without prior authorization from her employer.
Used Uber when family couldn’t provide transportation
Pamela Jeffry was employed by Medical Management International. She suffered a compensable injury in November 2013.
Jeffry had surgery related to the injury in 2019, which left her unable to drive per her doctor’s orders. Her husband or another family member usually took her to her medical appointments, but when her husband’s work schedule conflicted with the appointments and other family members were unable to fill in, she relied on Uber as a last resort.
Employer unaware transportation was needed
Medical Management was unaware Jeffry required transportation, so it never offered an alternate means for her to get to the appointments. Jeffry testified that she kept her employer’s case manager informed of her situation, but she never explicitly told them that she was restricted from driving.
Jeffry asked the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission for compensation for her medical-related Uber expenses incurred between May 2, 2019, and February 19, 2020. The Uber charges for 44 trips totaled $881.
However, Medical Management didn’t offer evidence that the charges were unreasonable and its claims adjuster testified that the company had arranged private transportation for other injured workers in the past. The claims adjuster said she didn’t get those bills and didn’t know the cost for that transportation.
A deputy workers’ compensation commissioner denied the reimbursement claim because Jeffry hadn’t given advance notice to her employer that she needed transportation. The deputy commissioner ordered Medical Management to reimburse Jeffry using the standard rate per mile, amounting to $139.
The full Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed that deputy commissioner’s decision, finding that since the employer didn’t contest the cost of transportation advance notice wasn’t a requirement.
‘No statutory basis to impose notice requirement’
On appeal with the Virginia Court of Appeals, Medical Management argued the reimbursement should have been limited to the standard rate per mile since Jeffry failed to provide notice that she needed transportation.
The appeals court pointed out that notice was only required if it “resulted in clear prejudice to the employer.” Medical Management didn’t contest the Uber costs as excessive and offered no evidence it could have provided transportation for less.
Further, the appeals court found “it would be strange to require employees to give notice of their intent to undertake reasonable and necessary expenses that are ancillary but essential to their compensable medical treatment. It would be even stranger to default the employee for failing to provide such notice without asking if the lack of notice prejudiced the employer’s interests.”
Ultimately, the appeals court upheld the commission’s decision “not because the employer failed to show prejudice from the lack of notice that Jeffry needed such transport, but because we find no statutory basis to impose such a notice requirement in the first place.”