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Monday, May 18, 2015

The Role Workers’ Compensation Plays in the Amtrak Train 188 Derailment

The unfortunate crash of Amtrak 188 left 8 people dead and injured over 200 people. Compensation benefits for victims and their families face a host of complex and conflicting legal remedies. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating an Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia, Pa.

Today's post is by guest author Brianne Rohner Erickson of the Nebraska Bar.

Our sympathies go out to all of the friends and families of the victims of Tuesday’s Amtrak passenger train derailment in Philadelphia, as well as a wish for the recovery of those injured. The latest news reports indicate that, as of Friday morning, the crash has left at least eight dead and more than 200 injured.

In reading some of the profiles of those fatally injured in the crash, I have thought about how the families of these victims move forward now. There has been a lot of discussion of the role of Amtrak’s negligence, train safety in the United States, and the engineer responsible for driving the train, but little has been mentioned of the role of the employers of the victims, some of whom were traveling to or from work or on work-related business. Some of these employers may be responsible for providing workers’ compensation benefits, and some may not. Of the eight fatalities, one individual was reportedly headed home following work-related meetings in Washington, D.C. Another was reportedly commuting home to New York from her job in Philadelphia. Although the circumstances appear similar, Nebraska and other states’ workers’ compensation law would likely treat these two claims very differently.

Nebraska follows a going to and from work rule, which states that accidents occurring in the course of a worker’s travel are generally deemed not to be compensable when the worker is “going or coming” from his or her place of employment. This rule essentially finds that a worker’s daily commute is not covered by workers’ compensation. This travel time is not considered to be within the course and scope of employment. It is likely that the crash victim who was commuting home to New York and her family would not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

One of the exceptions to the going to and from work rule is the “commercial traveler” rule. This rule essentially provides that, if a claimant must be required to travel in the performance of his or her duties and be on the employer’s business during travel, they are generally within the course and scope of their employment from the time they leave home until they return. Some exceptions may arise if it is determined that the employer’s interest was merely incidental, but generally those workers traveling on business, like the crash victim who was reportedly returning home from work-related meetings, should be covered by workers’ compensation.