A truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel should be awarded workers’ compensation benefits for the injuries he suffered as a result of the crash.

truck1The decision highlights the fact employees involved in motor vehicle accidents may seek compensation from their employer so long as the crash occurred in the course and scope of employment – even if the worker was actually at-fault.

The whole purpose of workers’ compensation benefits is efficient, fast compensation for people hurt on-the-job. Workers don’t have to prove negligence by the employer, and even if the worker acted in way that contributed to some degree to the injury, they may likely still collect.

Truck driver fatigue is a major issue affecting many professional drivers and interstate carriers. It’s a primary cause of Fort Myers truck accidents, and it’s the main reason federal regulators have enacted mandatory rest periods for those in the industry.

A company who employs a trucker who falls asleep at the wheel is likely to have to pay damages to any third party injured as a result. But what the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in Appeal of Brandon Kelly is that the driver could seek compensation as well, without proving his weariness was directly related to his work.

According to court records, plaintiff was traveling from a job site in Massachusetts to the company headquarters in New Hampshire, driving the company truck. However, on the way, he fell asleep at the wheel and struck a utility pole. Although he did not strike anyone else, his own injuries were severe, and required the amputation of a lower leg.

He filed a request for workers’ compensation benefits, and the company’s insurer denied the claim. A hearing was set, and the division of labor awarded benefits. The company appealed to the workers’ compensation appeals board, which denied benefits. The board ruled while it was undisputed the worker was acting in the course of his employment at the time, worker failed to prove his injuries arose out of his employment because he didn’t show he was abnormally tired as a result of his employment.

The board indicated the accident stemmed from a “mixed risk” situation, one in which employment conditions and personal risks combine to result in injury. An example would be a person with heart trouble who dies doing work that put stress on his heart.

In a mixed risk situation, the claimant has a higher burden of proof to show legal and medical causation that the injury was in fact work-related.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court didn’t rule on whether this was or wasn’t mixed risk, but assumed for the sake of argument it was. Even so, the board’s logic was erroneous because the worker’s injuries were the result not of him sleeping but of a truck accident. That is, his injuries would not have resulted but for him being behind the wheel of a truck, which he was doing as part of his work.

Whether he was tired because his employer forced him to work too many hours in a certain time period or whether the worker suffered from unrelated insomnia did not matter, the court ruled. The driver’s injuries clearly arose out of the course of employment and were within the scope of employment. Thus, he deserved to obtain worker’s compensation benefits.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Appeal of Brandon Kelly , March 20, 2015, New Hampshire Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Tempel v. Benson – Accepting Payment in Crash Case Could Mean Negating Lawsuit or Appeal, March 30, 2015, Fort Myers Truck Accident Lawyer