Car Accidents and Workers’ Compensation

According to the California Highway Patrol, 223,128 people were injured in motor vehicle accidents in California for the year 2013. If you were injured in a motor vehicle accident you probably have already thought to hire a personal injury attorney. However, if the driving or presence in the vehicle was related to your work, you may also be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

How do you know if your involvement in the vehicle accident is “related” to your work? The obvious example is a truck or bus driver who is involved in an accident when driving their delivery route. There are additional less obvious situations. For example:

  • Traveling sales persons
  • Doing an errand for your company or boss
  • Driving from the office to another location for work related reasons such as visiting a client, attending court, attending a mandatory work function
  • Making deliveries for the business
  • Your employer pays you for your travel time between your home and office.

I had a case where an employee who did work from home was traveling from the office to her home and suffered an injury in a car accident on the way from the office home. She received workers’ compensation benefits because she had work files in her car and was planning on doing work from home that evening. Generally, if you sustain injuries in a car accident that occurs on your way to or from work, this falls under the “coming and going” exception and you would not qualify for benefits. But as you can see from my example, there are always exceptions.

Even if you file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, you still have the right to sue the person who is at fault in the accident. The opposite is true as well. If you have both a workers’ compensation case and civil lawsuit, we call the civil lawsuit the “third-party case”. If you receive a settlement or award in your civil lawsuit, the insurance carrier in the workers’ compensation case is entitled to a take a “credit” for the money you receive in your civil lawsuit. For example, if you receive $20,000.00 in your civil lawsuit from the at-fault party and you receive an award of $50,000.00 in the workers’ compensation claim, the workers’ compensation insurance carrier gets to take a “credit” for the $20,000.00 you already received in the civil lawsuit and only has to pay you $30,000.00. This is done to avoid double collecting.

There are benefits to filing both a claim for workers’ compensation benefits and a civil claim against the other driver and their insurance company. Workers’ compensation does not cover damages such as the loss of your vehicle or pain and suffering. In workers’ compensation you receive medical treatment, temporary disability (partial lost wages due to the injury) and permanent disability. Also, workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, unlike the civil system where you must prove that the other driver caused the accident. Even if you are found to be at fault in the vehicle accident you are likely entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

Your workers’ compensation or personal injury attorney should be able to refer you to another attorney who specializes in the other field. Some firms handle both types of cases or have a good working relationship with other attorneys who do specialize in related areas of law.

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information only and is not intended to serve as legal advice.