Nurse secures comp for accident caused by cell phone distraction
Case name: Wythe County Community Hospital v. Turpin, No. 0208-11-3 (Va. Ct. App. 10/04/11).
Ruling: The Virginia Court of Appeals held that a nurse was entitled to benefits because her injury while driving arose out of her employment.
What it means: In Virginia, a worker injured while trying to answer a call on a cell phone can receive compensation if the injury can be traced to the employment as a contributing cause.
Summary: A hospice nurse worked on call during weekends. The hospital's principal means of contacting her was through a pager it provided. If the pager did not work, the hospital called her personal cell phone. The nurse kept her cell phone at all times while on call because the pager was often unreliable. She also instructed her friends and family not to contact her while she was on call. Her job required her to drive, and the hospital reimbursed her for mileage. She was driving home on mountainous roads following a mandatory training. Her phone illuminated, and she looked down on the assumption that the hospital was trying to call her. Her distraction caused her to slide on gravel, and her car skidded out of control until it struck a bank on the other side of the road. She sustained injuries and sought workers' compensation benefits. The Virginia Court of Appeal held that she was entitled to benefits.
The court said that the mere possibility that a call on a cell phone originated from an employer does not make an injury occurring while a worker tries to respond to the call one that arises out of employment. However, the nurse's injury arose out of her employment. The court found that when the nurse was on call, her cell phone use was effectively reserved for contact with the hospital. The court explained that the nurse's response stemmed from her attentiveness to the distinct requirements of her job to carefully monitor her cell phone for calls from the hospital. The fact that the illumination of her cell phone did not result from a work-related call did not change the outcome.
A dissenting judge opined that the accident could not be fairly traced to her employment because the nurse assumed she was receiving a call and assumed it was from the hospital.
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November 3, 2011
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