Failure to Wear A Seatbelt Cause for Claim Denial

Liz Carey

Richmond, VA (WorkersCompensation.com) – A truck driver injured while delivering ice is not eligible for workers’ compensation because he was not wearing a seat belt, a Virginia appeals court has found.

In 2018, Parker Mizelle was employed by Holiday Ice, Inc. when he was asked to deliver a load of ice for a party on Sept. 16, according to court documents. Within five minutes of getting into the truck to deliver the ice, he testified he felt a bump on the side of the vehicle and noticed that the trailer he was hauling was beside the truck. Mizelle said he tried to correct the truck to get the trailer behind it, but instead lost control of the vehicle, crossed the median and was struck by an oncoming dump truck.

After filing a workers’ compensation claim for his injuries – kidney, liver, and spleen lacerations, a broken left scapula and rib, and a pulmonary contusion – he was initially awarded a claim to pay his medical bills by a deputy commissioner for the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Holiday Ice appealed the decision, saying that he was not eligible for coverage because he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. In the hearing, the company presented medical evidence that Mizelle’s injuries were caused by his not wearing his seat belt.

“In support of its defense alleging willful misconduct, employer entered into evidence a questionnaire completed by Dr. Michael Martyak, the trauma physician who treated claimant at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital,” court documents said. “In responding to the questionnaire, Dr. Martyak opined that claimant’s injuries were ‘consistent with being caused by an ejection and impact with the ground’ and that ‘it is more likely than not that use of a seatbelt would have limited or avoided [claimant’s] injuries.’”

During testimony, Mizelle admitted that he wasn’t wearing his seat belt because he was told the job was a rush, and that he intended to put the seat belt on eventually.

“Claimant further testified that since first obtaining a driver’s license, he had known that Virginia law ‘says you’re supposed to put [a seat belt] on before you start driving,’” court documents said. “He acknowledged his understanding that the seat belt law ‘still applied’ and stated that when he began driving the truck, he knew that he ‘had to put [his seat belt] on, . . . didn’t put it on yet, but . . . intended to do so at some point.’ He agreed that to his knowledge, nothing was wrong with the truck’s seat belt and that he understood its purpose was to hold him in place, prevent him from bouncing around, and keep him from being ejected in the event of an accident.”

When brought before the full commission, Mizelle’s claim was denied. The commission cited Mizelle’s “willfull misconduct” in failing to wear his seat belt.

Mizelle appealed the commission’s decision to the Virginia Appeals Court. The appeals court affirmed the commission’s decision, citing law that states an injured worker is not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, if the employee engages in actions that violate the law, in this case, failure to wear a seatbelt, as directed by the employer. .

“Our Supreme Court has ‘interpreted the meaning of the word ‘willful’ from Section 14 of the former Workmens’ [sic] Compensation Act…The Supreme Court [has] explained that willful in this context means ‘with deliberate intent,’” the court wrote. “The Court has further explained that if an employee knows that an action is forbidden, ‘and yet intentionally does the forbidden thing, he has willfully failed to obey.’”

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