Officer Loses Claim For Injuries Suffered While Traveling To Medical Treatment

Tania Esquivel is a corrections officer who works for the Corrections Corporation of America. Esquivel suffered a series of on-the-job injuries, and was receiving medical treatment from a doctor in San Diego, where Esquivel lived. The doctor referred Esquivel for treatment at a San Diego pain facility.

On May 21, 2007, Esquivel drove from her home in San Diego to her mother’s home in San Bernardino County. Within minutes after Esquivel left her mother’s home to drive to the pain clinic in San Diego, she was involved in an automobile accident. When Esquivel’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits for the automobile accident was denied, she challenged the denial in the California Court of Appeals.

The Court upheld the denial of workers’ compensation benefits associated with the accident. The Court acknowledged that under some circumstances an injury an employee suffers while traveling to a medical appointment for treatment of an industrial injury should be held to be an injury arising out of and in the course of employment for the purposes of workers’ compensation laws. What concerned the Court was whether there should be a geographic limitation on an employer’s risk of incurring liability with respect to new injuries an employee suffers while en route to a medical appointment for examination or treatment of an existing industrial injury.

The Court was troubled by the fact that “the employer lacks the opportunity to exercise any control over the trip” when an employee drives long distances to seek medical treatment. The rule, the Court found, should be one of “geographic reasonableness.” As the Court saw it, “the employer bears the risk of incurring compensation liability under the workers’ compensation laws for an injury an employee suffers during travel to or from a medical appointment related to an existing compensable injury while the employee is traveling a reasonable distance, within a reasonable geographic area, to or from that appointment. Conversely, where the employee chooses for reasons unrelated to his or her need for medical treatment to travel to a distant location beyond a reasonable geographic area of his or her employer’s compensability risk, and is injured while traveling an unreasonable distance from that distant location to a medical appointment for examination or treatment of an existing compensable injury, the employer will incur no such liability.”

Applying this rule to the facts of Esquivel’s case, the Court found that the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board “did not err in finding that Esquivel’s motor vehicle accident injuries are not compensable because it is undisputed they occurred – for reasons unrelated to her need for medical treatment of her existing compensable injuries – near her mother’s home more than 130 miles away from both her San Diego residence and the San Diego offices of her doctors. Thus, her new injuries clearly occurred outside the reasonable geographic area.”

Esquivel v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, 100 Cal.Rptr.3d 380 (Cal. App. 2009).

This article appears in the January 2010 issue