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How a Company Car Aided a Widow's Worker's Comp Claim

November 9, 2005

The Pennsylvania state Supreme Court ruled that a widow is entitled to worker’s compensation benefits because her deceased husband demanded a company car before dying in a traffic accident in the same car, according to an October 27 report in The Legal Intelligencer.Normally, an employee that suffers injuries or dies while traveling to and from work would not be covered by workers compensation (the "going and coming" rule). There are several common exceptions to this rule, however, as illustrated in Wachs v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board. When an employer provides transportation to an employee in the form of a company car, injuries occurring during a commute would usually be compensable.James Wachs returned to American Office Systems after spending several years at a competitor. An AOS official testified that the only way Wachs could be convinced to return to AOS was if he was given a company car. Wachs was driving the same company car he was given in 1991 when he died in a car crash roughly seven years later.The majority rejected the argument that this exception is inapplicable in Wachs because at the time of his death, James Wachs' most current contract did not address transportation. "Because [Wachs' widow] established by substantial evidence that decedent's negotiated employment contract included transportation to and from work via a company car, and decedent was killed on his way to work in that car, we affirm the Commonwealth Court's order granting fatal death benefits to [her]," Justice J. Michael Eakin wrote.According to Worker’s Comp Insider, workers compensation laws vary state to state so a contractual exception may not occur in every jurisdiction. But exceptions based on employer-provided transportation are quite common. This could include a private company car or group transportation via a company-owned vehicle. On September 12, 2002, 14 Guatemalan migrant workers were killed in Maine when the company van transporting them to work careened from a bridge into the Allagash River. The state awarded the families compensation.
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