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Getting Compensation for Work-Related Vehicle Accidents in California

Not all work injuries occur in an office or a factory. Some serious work accidents happen on the road while employees are driving from one job site to another.

When work-related car accidents happen in California, injury victims often have a lot of questions. Right near the top of the list is whether they’re eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits for their injury-related expenses and whether they can still file a personal injury claim if they were on the job when the crash happened.

What is a work-related car accident?

Let’s start with what exactly qualifies as a work-related car accident in California. If someone was driving during work as part of their job and they were hurt in an accident, California considers that accident work-related. In other words, the driver’s employer is responsible for compensating the injured employee through the company’s workers’ compensation insurance if the injured worker was on the road within the scope of their employment.

“Scope of employment” is a legal term used in cases involving work-related vehicle accidents and other work injuries. This simply means that the accident needs to have occurred while the person in the vehicle was performing work as part of their job. For example, if a delivery driver gets hurt while making a delivery, that falls under the normal scope of employment. The same is true for construction workers driving during working hours to deliver supplies from one work site to another, or office workers traveling to an off-site meeting.

Is commuting to work considered work-related?

In general, no. If you were simply driving to work and were involved in an accident, that is generally not considered within the scope of your employment and thus not covered by workers’ comp. This may also apply to:

  • Driving during your lunch break or another unpaid meal break
  • Running personal errands during working hours

However, there are exceptions. For instance, if you were following instructions from your employer or completing an errand from your employer during your commute, that may be considered within the scope of employment. You may also be covered by workers’ comp during the portion of your commute that is on your employer’s premises (e.g., a car accident in the company parking lot).

If you are not sure if your car accident was work-related, simply talk to an attorney familiar with the rules and regulations concerning workers’ compensation claims in California.

How common are work-related car accidents?

Work-related car accidents are some of the most common causes of work injuries in California and nationally. On average, 2 out 5 work-related accidents nationwide are car accidents, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Moreover, 24 percent of workplace fatalities happen in car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Indeed, car accidents are one of the top two causes of work-related deaths in nearly every profession.

The financial toll of workplace car accidents is staggering as well. According to the CDC, such accidents cost employers more than $39 billion each year.

What professions have the most work-related car accidents?

Not surprisingly, jobs that require workers to drive for work account for most work-related vehicle accidents. Such professions include:

  • Commercial truck drivers
  • Delivery truck drivers
  • First responders (EMTs, police officers, and firefighters)
  • Oil and gas extraction workers

What car accident expenses are covered by workers’ compensation?

If you sustained an injury in a work-related car accident, certain injury-related expenses should be covered by your workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation pays for the full cost of reasonable and necessary medical care for your injuries sustained in a work accident. It also provides partial replacement of lost wages if you are unable to work due to your injuries.

You may also be eligible for other, additional compensation depending on the circumstances of your accident. If in doubt, simply ask an experienced California workers’ compensation attorney.

Employees vs. independent contractors

One way work-related vehicle accidents in California can get complicated is if the injured worker is an independent contractor. This means that the person does not work directly for a particular company and is therefore not an employee, but rather provides services on a contract basis. Independent contractors are not covered by workers’ compensation. On the other hand, independent contractors are free to file lawsuits against their employer if the employer’s negligence caused the accident.

However, just because your employer says you’re an independent contractor doesn’t make it so. Some types of employees, including truck drivers, are commonly misclassified as contractors when they legally should be treated as employees. Among other implications, misclassified employees may be eligible for workers’ compensation. The only way to know for sure is to talk to a lawyer.

Can injured workers file a lawsuit?

In general, if you are eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits from your employer for your work-related car accident, you cannot file a lawsuit against your employer or a coworker to seek financial compensation, even if their negligence caused your accident. This is the tradeoff at the heart of workers’ compensation.

However, if another driver or another responsible party caused your work-related car accident, you may be able to file a lawsuit against that third party. This is important because a personal injury lawsuit can provide compensation for losses not covered by workers’ compensation, such as pain and suffering.

The bottom line: don’t simply assume you know the answer to this question. It’s always best to talk to a California lawyer familiar with the legal system as it applies to car accidents and workers’ compensation.

Why should I hire a lawyer?

There are many different legal issues that come up in cases involving work-related car accidents in California. When you have an experienced attorney who knows the law and understands how the legal system works, you can make informed decisions based on the facts and what’s best for you.

Don’t simply take your employer’s word or anyone else’s opinion about your accident. Make sure you talk to a California work injury lawyer as soon as possible. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be able to file a lawsuit or take other legal action in addition to collecting workers’ compensation benefits. If so, your attorney can move your workers’ compensation claim and your personal injury lawsuit forward simultaneously.

It’s also important to keep in mind that California is a large state. Just because a lawyer is licensed to practice law statewide doesn’t mean they know your particular part of California. Make sure you talk to a lawyer who works in your area, whether it’s San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County, or another part of The Golden State.

The sooner you talk to a lawyer, the better. Strict deadlines apply to work injuries, and you could jeopardize your claim if you wait too long. Moreover, your attorney needs to start their investigation as soon as possible before critical evidence disappears. If you’ve been hurt in a car accident at work, schedule your free consultation with a lawyer in your area today.

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