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Driver distracted by cell phone gets comp

Here’s a case where a driver distracted by a cell-phone call could show that the resulting accident was covered by workers’ comp.

Hospice nurse Donna Turpin sought medical payments for whiplash she suffered when she went off the road after glancing down at her ringing cell phone.

Turpin testified that at the time of the accident, she was driving home from the hospice office at 8:15 p.m. and her “cell phone light caught my attention, and I looked down, and then my car was in the gravel, and then, there was the wreck.”

The employer, Wythe County Community Hospital, said Turpin’s accident did not arise out of her employment.

Turpin said her job required her to be available at certain times, by pager or by personal cell phone, and that the light on the phone, indicating a call, “caught [her] eye” just before the accident.

Turpin personally paid the expenses for the cell phone and received calls from family and friends on the phone.

The hospital tried to distinguish Turpin’s case from another commission decision that allowed benefits for an employee on a required conference call with the employer, using an employer-provided mobile phone.

Who footed the cell-phone bill was not the issue, under the commission’s reasoning.

“The claimant’s employment required her to be quite attentive to her pager and cell phone to respond when contacted by either method. The claimant’s accident occurred because of her inattentiveness to driving. The inattentiveness resulted from the claimant’s response to a potential work-related contact,” the commission said in a Dec. 29 opinion in Turpin v. Wythe County Community Hospital.

Even without evidence that the particular call was work-related, or that there even was a call, the claimant was required to be “attentive” to “her communications devices while on-call…,” wrote Commissioner Roger L. Williams.

Turpin “looked at her cell phone while on-call and was thus engaged in an activity required by her in the performance of her work duties, which activity caused her accident and resulting injuries,” Williams said.
By Deborah Elkins

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