Appeals Court awards workmens’ comp benefits to utility trimmer

A New York appeals court ruled that a utility tree trimmer is entitled to Workmen’s Compensation benefits for his injuries from a car accident that occurred while he was on his way to pick up a bucket truck from his employer’s parking lot.

Christopher Wright who worked for Nelson Tree Service worked in various locations around Dutchess County clearing brush and trimming trees along powerlines. 

Due to the travel distance involved, Wright was given the option of staying in a local hotel for the work week, which he elected to do, and the employer paid him a $65 per diem at the end of each week to cover his food and lodging expenses. Each morning, Wright and his coworkers would drive from the hotel to the parking lot where the employer’s bucket trucks were stored, pick up one of the trucks and proceed to the designated work site. 

On the way to pick up the bucket truck one morning, Wright got into a car accident. In the accident, he sustained a traumatic brain injury.

Wright’s original claim for Workmen’s Compensation benefits was denied on the grounds that the accident did not arise out of the course of his employment.

On April 16, 2020, an appeals court reversed the decision to deny Workmen’s Compensation benefits. The decision came when a different exemption was applied to employees who are required to travel by their employer.

Under the traveling employee exemption, “injuries to a traveling employee may be compensable even if the employee at the time of the accident was not engaged in the duties of his or her employment.”

The Board observed that Wright was working in an area about a 5½-to 6-hour drive from home. Although the employer’s supervisor testified that Wright was not required to stay at the hotel, he agreed that it would not have been practical for Wright to commute from home. All of Wright’s coworkers, including the general foreman, stayed at the hotel. Under these circumstances, the Board determined that Wright’s status as an employee continued throughout his stay away from home.