Can I Get CA Workers’ Comp Benefits for an Auto Accident?

Worker's compensation claims can be complex, and understanding if you are eligible for benefits after suffering injuries in a seemingly work-related auto accident can be particularly challenging. California has specific definitions for what is considered a work-related car accident that in turn determines whether you qualify for benefits. Below, we review the circumstances in which you can get workers’ compensation benefits for auto accident injuries in California.

What Is Considered a Work-Related Car Accident in California?

In the state of California, a work-related car accident is typically defined as one that occurs while performing duties related or essential to your job. The accident does not necessarily have to involve a company car to be considered work-related. The parameters of this definition are broad and can encompass a wide range of scenarios.

Off-Site Meetings

If you are traveling to an off-site meeting by automobile in connection with your job, the associated travel time is generally considered part of your work duties. In other words, if you get into an accident while driving to an off-site meeting, the collision could qualify as a work-related incident, and you may be eligible for workers' compensation. This rule also applies if you are sent to another location for work purposes or are running errands for your employer.

However, it's important to understand that each case is unique, and several factors come into play when assessing whether a situation fits the criteria for a work-related car accident. The proximity of the accident to your job site, the nature of your work, and the specifics of your employment agreement can all affect the outcome of a claim. If you make significant deviations from your direct route to an off-site meeting for personal reasons, for example, a subsequent car accident may not necessarily be considered work-related.

Worksite Auto Accidents

Many industries require a significant amount of driving at a job site, oftentimes leading to an increased risk of auto accidents. The construction industry, for example, typically requires substantial vehicle operation, with heavy machinery and equipment such as bulldozers, backhoes, and dump trucks being commonly used. The oil and gas industry also involves a significant amount of driving at job sites. Employees often need to travel between various drilling sites, utilizing vehicles to transport heavy equipment and materials.

If you are in a job that involves substantial driving as part of your work responsibilities and you get injured in an auto accident, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. This can include injuries in collisions that occurred on or because of your job site. For example, if you were hit by a moving vehicle at a construction site or were injured in an accident while operating a construction vehicle, you could be eligible for workers' compensation.

A common scenario in driving-heavy industries involves the transportation of materials from one site to another. Any accidents that occur while performing such tasks will often be considered work-related.

Delivery Drivers

In California, delivery drivers may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits when injured in car accidents that occur in the course of their employment. This means that if the accident happens while the driver is delivering goods, driving to pick up goods, or even returning from a delivery, it is likely to be considered a work-related incident.

However, note that independent contractors do not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. This means that some types of delivery drivers, including independent contractors who deliver for services like Postmates or DoorDash, are not typically eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they suffer injuries in an accident while working. Only employees, such as part- or full-time employees of pizzerias or courier services, can potentially get workers’ compensation benefits for work-related injuries.

Is Commuting to Work Considered Work-Related in California?

In California, the general rule of thumb is that commuting to and from work is not considered a work-related activity. This is called the "going and coming" rule, which states that injuries sustained while an employee is traveling to or from work are typically not eligible for workers' compensation. This principle is predicated on the idea that an employer does not have control over the risks associated with an employee's commute.

There are some exceptions to this rule. If you are running an errand for your employer during your commute or if you are required to carry tools or equipment to work, your commute may be considered within the scope of your employment, thereby making injuries sustained during the commute potentially compensable under workers' compensation.

Additionally, an employee is not considered to be "on the job" during unpaid meal breaks, so any injuries sustained during this time, including those resulting from car accidents, do not usually qualify for workers' compensation. This also applies to any injuries sustained while driving to complete personal errands during your normal working hours.

I Was in a Work-Related Car Accident. Can I Still Get Benefits If the Crash Was My Fault?

If you were injured in a work-related car accident that you know was your fault, you are likely understandably concerned about whether you can still get workers’ compensation benefits. The good news is that fault does not usually matter in a workers’ compensation claim. California’s workers’ compensation system operates on a no-fault basis, so you may still be able to get benefits if you suffer work-related auto accident injuries due to an error in judgment or even negligence. Like in any workers’ comp case, however, you can be denied benefits if you were intoxicated at the time of the accident, if you intentionally caused the collision, or if you were behaving especially recklessly.

The Role of Third-Party Liability

Third-party liability refers to situations where a party other than the employer or one of their employees is responsible for an employee’s work-related injuries. For example, in the case of a delivery driver who gets hit by another motorist while on duty, the at-fault motorist would be considered a third party. In such instances, the injured worker may have the right to pursue a personal injury claim against the third party in addition to a workers' compensation claim.

Filing a third-party liability claim can be beneficial for workers injured in work-related car accidents, as it may provide compensation for losses not covered by workers' compensation. While workers' compensation covers medical expenses and a portion of lost wages, it does not compensate for pain and suffering, emotional distress, or full wage loss. However, a successful third-party claim can provide these additional damages. Keep in mind that you must be able to prove your injuries were caused by the third party’s negligence to recover damages. Additionally, while you can pursue workers’ compensation benefits and a third-party liability claim simultaneously, you will need to return any collected workers’ compensation benefits if your third-party liability claim is successful.

Do I Have Any Legal Options If My Car Accident Was Not Work-Related?

If it is determined that your car accident was not work-related, you may still have options for recovering compensation, especially if the collision was not your fault. You may be able to successfully pursue a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver if you can prove their negligence caused the crash. Similarly, if a vehicle defect is to blame for the collision, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the defective component.

We Can Help You Explore Your Legal Options after a Work-Related Car Accident in California!

If you recently suffered injuries in a car accident that appears to be work-related but are having trouble getting workers’ compensation benefits, turn to the Law Offices of Wax & Wax. Our experienced team of attorneys can help ascertain if your auto accident falls under the scope of workers' compensation.

We are prepared to diligently examine the specifics of your case, assessing factors such as your employment contract, the nature of your work, and the circumstances of the incident. If we believe your accident is work-related, we can help navigate the process of claiming the benefits you are entitled to and will fight to ensure your rights are protected. If we determine that a third party's negligence contributed to the accident, we can assist in pursuing a civil lawsuit against that party to recover further damages. Even if your accident is not work-related, we can walk you through other potential legal remedies, including personal injury lawsuits.

We can offer the professional guidance and comprehensive legal support you need during this challenging time. Call (818) 946-0608 or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation today!