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No Seat Belt, No Benefits

Because he was not wearing his seat belt, a man’s injuries in a crash while driving his employer’s truck were not covered by worker’s comp. This was the conclusion of the Workers’ Compensation Commission, and it was affirmed by the Virginia Court of Appeals. The man’s decision to not wear a seat belt was the immediate cause of his injuries. No Seat Belt No Benefits - Altizer Law PC

The Events

The Plaintiff worked delivering trailers of ice to customers of an ice company. On the day in question, he was asked to deliver a “party trailer” of ice to a nearby town. He testified that he was told to make the delivery quickly (“kind of like in a hurry”). He also indicated that carefully scheduled deliveries were standard operating procedure.

The plaintiff was driving a truck with seat belts. He knew he was required by law to use a seat belt. However, he did not fasten the seat belt.

While driving on a four-lane road, the Plaintiff said he felt a bump. At that time, he saw the trailer on the left side of the truck. He tried to realign the truck and trailer, but the truck veered across a median and into oncoming traffic. He crashed head-on into a dump truck. He was ejected from the truck. He sustained a number of very serious injuries, including liver and spleen lacerations, a broken left scapula and rib, and a pulmonary contusion. He said that he was uncertain if his body collided with anything inside the cab of the truck prior to ejection.

The plaintiff filed for medical benefits and temporary total disability benefits.

The Workers Compensation Commission Denied Benefits

The Plaintiff’s claim was weakened by a doctor’s answers to a questionnaire. The doctor indicated that the plaintiff’s injuries were “consistent with being caused by an ejection and impact with the ground.” Further, the doctor said that “it is more likely than not that use of a seat belt would have limited or avoided injuries.”

The Worker’s Compensation Commission deputy commissioner determined that the employer had not provided willful misconduct. The full commission disagreed, and rejected the plaintiff’s argument that he lacked “wrongful intent” or a “wrongful state of mind.” Based upon the medical evidence and the plaintiff’s explanation they also concluded that his injuries were proximately caused by his decision to not wear a seat belt. On appeal, the plaintiff said that the need for speedy delivery were “exigent circumstances” that explained his failure to use the seat belt.

The plaintiff’s attorney re-entered the claim that the facts of the case did not indicate that he had any “wrongful intent” when he failed to use his seat belt.

The Virginia Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals found sufficient indication of “willful misconduct.” They said that the plaintiff clearly showed that he rejected the seat belt law and made a willful choice to ignore it. The court also concluded that the facts of the case support the finding of “proximate cause.”

The Court’s opinion, in this case, may become a critical guide for future cases involving seat belt issues: No seat belt, no benefits.

Altizer Law, P.C.

Altizer Law in Roanoke, Virginia is a plaintiff’s attorney with 30 years of experience in car and truck accidents and personal injury claims. Bettina Altizer and her expert team have helped many clients to obtain maximum awards or settlements resolving their accident and injury cases. We are here to help you obtain appropriate financial compensation for your hurts and harms because it’s about the money.