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It is not uncommon for injured workers to suffer additional injuries due to car accidents on the way to a physician’s office or physical therapist’s office. So what are the rules in New Jersey on compensability?
Q. Is the injured worker covered for workers’ compensation purposes in a car accident on the way to treatment?
A. The case of Camp v. Lockheed Electronics, Inc., 178 N.J. Super. 535 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 87 N.J. 415 (1981) provides the answer to this question. In that case the employee fell at work on December 27, 1968 injuring her coccyx, low back and right leg. Then a year later petitioner was driving back from a visit to her physician when she was seriously injured in a car accident on March 9, 1969. She ended up having surgery in 1970. Her lawyer failed to file a claim petition for the car accident, and the petitioner received no award of compensation. The Appellate Division reversed in favor of petitioner, noting that Professor Larson’s treatise on workers’ compensation summarized the law around the nation on this issue:
A fall or automobile accident during a trip to a doctor’s office has usually been considered sufficiently causally related to the employment by the mere fact that a work-connected injury was the cause of the journey, without any necessity for showing that the first injury in some way contributed to the fall or accident.
The basic rule then is that an injury on the way to authorized treatment is compensable.
Q. Is the injured worker covered in a car accident on the way to an IME for permanency?
A. There is no case directly on point but there is a case which states that an injury in a car accident on the way to a fitness for duty examination requested by the employer does not arise out of work. In this practitioner’s opinion, a commute to an IME for purposes of permanency is not compensable because there is no authorized treatment involved. That is the essence of the rule in Camp noted above. A claimant who pursues permanency benefits does so as part of a litigation process. Both parties send the claimant to respective experts, but the attendance at the exams is due to litigation, not for purposes of treatment.
Q. What if an occupational facility uses a company like Uber to pick up the injured worker from work or home and then take the employee to treatment? Is a car accident on the way to treatment covered under those circumstances?
A. In the opinion of this practitioner, such an injury would be compensable under the rule in Camp. It would make no difference that the injured worker was not driving his or her own car. The rule in Camp would still apply because the employee was on the way to authorized treatment.
Q. Does an employer have a lien if the injured worker sues another driver who causes a car accident on the way to treatment?
A. Yes, since the car accident is a workers’ compensation injury, the employer has lien rights to any recovery from that accident under N.J.S.A. 34:15-40.
More and more occupational facilities are offering to transport injured workers to PT or doctors’ appointments either from work or home, using Uber or Lyft or similar services. A motor vehicle accident in such circumstances will almost certainly lead to a civil law suit because fault will likely lie with either that of the transport service driver or the other driver. The employer must pay workers’ compensation benefits, but there is a high likelihood of a third party claim with subrogation rights reserved to the employer.
John H. Geaney, Esq., is an Executive Committee Member and a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Workers’ Compensation Group. Mr. Geaney concentrates his practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, third-party administrators, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mr. Geaney at 856.914.2063 or by e‑mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.