Commercial Traveler Is Not A Strict Liability Rule

The Court of Appeal has taken a new look at the rules governing commercial travelers and come up with an interesting decision.

The decedent was a supervising gardener. He attended an out of town seminar on behalf of his employer.  He suffered a heart attack and died while on the trip from a staph infection. The widow alleged stress at trial resulted in the decedent’s death.  The voluminous medical records introduced by defendant showed the decedent’s problems with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease preceded his employment with the defendant. The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) found the decedent to be a commercial traveler, but insufficient evidence of stress caused at the workplace. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board agreed.

The Court of Appeal reviewed Labor Code section 3600 and stated that all injuries must be found to be AOE-COE. “Moreover, proximate cause must exist in that the employment must be a substantial contributing cause of the injury.” The court then reviewed the commercial traveler cases. The Court relied on Dalgleish v. Holt for the proposition that if the decedent was equally exposed to the hazard apart from the employment then the death would not be compensable. The Court did agree that the decedent was within the course of his employment and therefore, a commercial traveler.  However, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the employment. The commercial traveler cases do not make a traveler rule into a strict liability rule that says merely because you are on a trip for your employer, you are covered under Workers’ Compensation.

The Court stated that the “decedent’s heart condition and subsequent medical treatment are conditions to which he would have been equally exposed outside of the employment” The Court also indicated that the decedent did not suffer sufficient work-related stress to establish his heart condition and subsequent death arose out of the employment.

Therefore, there is no strict liability theory that just because one is on a business trip that an injury during that trip will be found compensable. The issue then becomes proving arising out of employment. A good defense will try to show there is no proximate cause between the travel and the injury. The defendant will try to prove that the applicant was merely exposed to a hazard mat the worker would equally be exposed to irrespective of the employment.

Case: Latourrete V. W.C.A.B.

Harvey Brown
3501 Jamboree Rd. Suite 602
Newport Beach, CA 92660

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