Q: I was in a car accident while driving an employer’s vehicle in California. Will my employer have to pay for my medical bills?
A: The answer to this question is complex and depends on several additional pieces of information. For the purpose of this question we will assume that you were at work at the time of the accident.
If you were driving your employer’s vehicle while performing your usual job duties, the answer is yes. Any injury that occurs during your regular course of employment is automatically covered under California’s Workmen’s Compensation Law. The only exception to this rule is that if you were engaged in “willful misconduct” at the time of the accident. Willful misconduct could be something obvious such as driving while impaired, reckless driving, speeding, or any conduct that would not be consistent with the normal performance of your job description.
If you were engaged in some form of misconduct you are not covered by Workmen’s Compensation but, depending on the terms of your employer’s motor vehicle insurance, you still might be able to file a claim under that insurance policy.
Q: I was not officially “on the clock” at the time of the accident but had stopped to pick up some parts for a copier in the office. Am I covered for the accident?
A: Yes. If you were performing some duty that isn’t a normal part of your usual work duties but would be considered “for the convenience of your employer,” you would still be covered under Workmen’s Compensation. Convenience of your employer means some function that was performed as a courtesy, such as picking up office supplies or picking up a fellow employee on your way to work. Even though you were officially “off the clock” at the time such actions, if performed at the request of your employer, have been considered as being “incidental to employment” by the courts and no different than if they happened during regular work hours.
Q: I work for a plumbing company and my employer allows me to drive a company truck home every night. Am I covered in the event of an auto accident going to and from a job site?
A: Yes, you are. As far as the law is concerned, driving a company vehicle home is no different than if you were driving it to or from a company parking lot or a company motor pool. Since your employer gave you permission to take the vehicle home, your employer must have had a good reason for doing so. Usually this is because you might be called out to work after hours and it would be easier to respond from your home than it would be to drive to a company lot before responding.
Q: Are there any situations where my employer would not be responsible if I were injured while driving a company vehicle?
A: Yes, there are. In addition to the “willful misconduct” reason mentioned earlier, if you did not have your employer’s permission to be driving the company’s vehicle you would probably have a very hard time convincing a jury or a Workmen’s Compensation hearing officer that your employer should pay your medical bills.
Q: I was injured while driving my employer’s vehicle and his insurance company is refusing to cover my medical bills. What should I do?
A: In such a case you have the right to retain a personal injury attorney represent you because 1) if it is Workmen’s Compensation that is refusing to pay, you have the right to hire an attorney to represent you when you sue to compel them to pay something that they are legally obligated to pay, or 2) if your employer’s auto insurance carrier is refusing to pay the carrier can be sued and, if found liable for the costs of your medical bills, could be forced to pay “treble damages” (three times what they would have had to pay) if they are found to have unreasonably denied your claim.