Employer Liability for Injury Suffered En Route to Doctor?
Topics: Court Decisions
Do you think it is obvious that an employer should not be held liable for injuries suffered by an employee as a result of running a stop sign outside of work hours? A California Workers' Compensation judge apparently did not think so. In Esquivel v. WCAB, an employee who worked in San Diego and was receiving regular medical treatments in the San Diego area for an industrial injury decided to travel to Los Angeles some 130 miles away to visit her family. Shortly after leaving Los Angeles to drive back to San Diego to attend a medical appointment the employee ran a stop sign, caused a collision and sustained serious injuries as a result. She sought worker's compensation benefits for the injuries caused by the car accident, contending that because she was on her way to a medical appointment for an industrial injury, her employer bore responsibility for the further injuries (albeit unrelated) she sustained en route to her appointment. The workers' compensation judge agreed with the employee and found that the motor vehicle accident injuries were a compensable consequence of the employee's existing industrial injuries.
The employer rightfully sought reconsideration from the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board and the Board agreed with the employer, reversing the award of additional benefits. The WCAB held that the accident occurred too remotely from the employee's home and doctor's office to hold the employer responsible for the risk of that injury. The employee appealed from the WCAB order.
On appeal, the California Court of Appeal agreed with the WCAB and held that the employee's injuries occurred outside the reasonable geographic area of her employer's compensability risk. To be clear, the court did not hold that an employer is never liable for injuries sustained by an employee en route to a medical appointment for an industrial injury. To the contrary, the court held that an employer bears the risk and responsibility for new injuries an employee suffers while en route to or from a medical appointment within a "reasonable geographic area." The court explained that there is no "bright line" test for what constitutes a "reasonable geographic area" and that it must be determined on a case by case basis. However, on the facts before the court, the employee was, for purely personal reasons, some 130 miles away from her work, her residence, and the location of her medical appointments at the time of her car accident. The court held that in these circumstances, the injury was clearly outside the reasonable geographic area the employer could have assumed risk for.
Interestingly, the court did not address the employer's additional argument that the employer should not have been liable for the employee's injuries (regardless of where they occurred geographically) because the injuries were caused by the employee's own fault in running a stop sign (according to the CHP report of the accident). What are we missing here?