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Employee Owed Worker's Comp for Car Crash

May 26, 2005

The South Dakota Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that an employee of a South Dakota construction firm is owed workers’ compensation benefits for injuries sustained while driving to a construction job, according to a May 26 Associated Press report.The decision involves the case of Vanessa L. Mudlin, a flag person for Hills Materials Co., who crashed on the way to a road-building site in 1999. Mudlin was hospitalized for several weeks after the accident.The state Labor Department decided Mudlin was on the job while driving and is entitled to benefits. After Circuit Judge Max Gors of Pierre agreed, Hills Materials took the issue to the Supreme Court.The construction company told the high court that Mudlin cannot collect benefits because she was not injured on the job but merely driving to work when the accident occurred. Mudlin had argued that her injuries were job-related because Hills Materials requires employees in Rapid City to either use their own cars or travel in company cars to remote construction sites, according to the AP report."Hills had a specific policy that required employees to use their personal vehicles to get to and from the job site when company vehicles were not available," wrote Justice Richard W. Sabers. "On the day of the accident, Mudlin was conducting herself in accordance with established company practice and its travel policy."The high court rejected an argument by Hills Materials that Mudlin cannot get benefits because she was speeding, failed to wear a seat belt and fell asleep at the wheel. Though workers' compensation can be denied for willful misconduct, the justices said factors that caused the accident cannot be classified as conduct that would deny benefits.
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