Gavel and files

Legislator Awarded Benefits for Accident During Morning Commute

Oklahoma residents may generally know that workers compensation benefits are available for injuries that occur on the job. Questions may arise over what exactly qualifies as "on the job" and whether a personal injury lawsuit may also be available.

An Oklahoma state legislator recently claimed he suffered an on-the-job injury when he was involved in a car accident while driving to the state Capitol in 2009. It was up to a workers' compensation judge to determine whether the injury occurred in the course of the legislator's employment.

Key Issue to Resolve

The key question was whether the legislator was officially "working" at the time of the accident, which occurred about three miles away from the Capitol building. The legislator argued that he was coming from his district in south Oklahoma City at the time of the accident.

Driving from his district to the Capitol qualified him for gas mileage reimbursement. Although he did not take advantage of this benefit, this supported his claim that he was on the job when the accident occurred.

The accident happened quickly, and the legislator suffered back and neck injuries from the accident that may require future neck surgery.

Ruling in the Workers' Comp Case

The judge ultimately ruled in the legislator's favor and agreed that he was officially on the job when the accident occurred. The legislator was awarded $61,560 in workers' compensation benefits for 18% permanent partial disability in both his lower back and neck.

The insurance company and state House of Representatives appealed the decision. They argue the legislator did not receive medical treatment for the injuries and did not complain of back problems to his treating physicians.

Generally, in order for an employee to obtain compensation for an injury suffered on the job, the injury must "arise out of and in the course of" the employment, This standard is subject to many interpretations.

Normally employees are not entitled to workers compensation benefits while commuting to and from work. An exception applies if the employer pays for travel expenses. According to the judge in this case, this exception applied to the legislator despite the fact that he did not take advantage of the reimbursement opportunity.

In addition to a workers' compensation case, if a negligent driver caused the accident a personal injury lawsuit might be available. A skilled personal injury attorney can provide guidance and assistance with obtaining any available compensation.