Accident Caused By Answering Cell Phone While Driving Deemed Compensable in Virginia
A hospice nurse in Virginia was recently awarded workers’ compensation benefits after she was involved in a motor vehicle accident while on call.
The hospice nurse worked on call during the weekends and court records showed that her employer mainly contacted her via pager. When the pager did not work, which was common, her personal cell phone served as a backup means of contact. During her on call days the nurse used her cell phone exclusively for work purposes, going so far as to tell her friends and family to call her husband if they needed to get in touch with her.
The accident occurred when her cell phone rang and she momentarily looked down, assuming her employer was trying to contact her. The distraction caused her to drive the vehicle off the road and strike an adjacent embankment. Due to this unique set of facts, a Virginia court stated that her response to the call was the result of her attentiveness to the distinct requirements of her job, specifically monitoring her cell phone for employer communications. Therefore, there was a “causal connection between the claimant's injury and the conditions under which the employer required the work to be performed,” the court ruled.
My Two Cents:
In Alabama, a worker's failure to follow a safety regulation provides a defense to paying indemnity benefits (but not medical benefits). In order to take advantage of this defense, employers must have "anti-distracted driving" rules as part of their safety policy. For example, employers could require employee's to pull over before using their cell phones, GPS, or other electronic devices.