Can an Injured Worker Be Denied Work Comp Benefits Because They Broke a Safety Rule?
It is not unheard of for an injured worker in Virginia to successfully prove that an accident and injury arose out of his or her employment but then be denied benefits because the insurance company successfully defends the claim. One defense that employer's occasionally raise is the "willful misconduct defense". Stated simply, in these cases, the employer tries to prove that the injured worker's violation of a known safety rule caused the accident. The Virginia Court of Appeals has set out a 4-part test to evaluate whether the employer has proved a willful misconduct defense:
- That the safety rule was reasonable
- That the rule was known to the claimant (injured worker)
- That the rule was for the claimant's benefit
- That the claimant intentionally undertook the forbidden act.
In a notable case, the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission found that an injured worker could not recover wage loss and medical benefits because the injured worker intentionally avoided a safety procedure established by the worker’s employer. The injured worker attempted to assert that the employer did not enforce the rule. The injured worker filed a claim for medical and wage loss benefits with the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission and a hearing was scheduled before a Deputy Commissioner (a worker’s compensation judge). The injured worker testified that his leg got caught in a machine which caused injury, disability and the need for medical treatment. The employer offered evidence that the injured worker did not follow a known safety rule because he did not enter the area around the machine that turned the machine off when a person was near like he was supposed to. The Deputy Commissioner denied the injured workers benefits and the Full Commission upheld the Deputy Commissioner's decision finding that the claimant's injury was caused by his failure to follow proper safety procedure.
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