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Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Injuries from Distraction?

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Distractions on the job have become more and more common with the advent of mobile technologies and smartphones, with assistance from apps like Candy Crush and Pokémon GO. The hype that surrounded Pokémon GO was followed quickly by news reports of injuries including vehicles striking pedestrians playing the game, drivers using the app behind the wheel, and employees chasing Pokémon at work. Now, employers and employees are asking if workers’ compensation covers injuries caused by distraction.

The Risks of Distraction to Employees

Employees across every industry can suffer damages due to distraction on the job, from tripping and falling on an obstacle in the office to more dire accidents involving heavy equipment in the construction and manufacturing industries. When employees operate company vehicles or pieces of machinery while texting, emailing, scrolling through social media, or playing Pokémon GO, they risk injuring themselves and those around them.

For working professionals, on-the-job distractions are no game. The potential impacts that mobile apps and other distractions can cause employees include safety risks, customer management, fleet safety, and data privacy risks. An employee could cause serious harm, including crashing a company vehicle, striking a pedestrian, making errors on an assembly line, and more. When the worst happens, employees need to understand whether workers’ compensation provides coverage for medical costs, lost wages, and disability benefits.

Workers’ Compensation in California

The point of the workers’ compensation system across the nation is to help injured workers recover from accidents that occur at the workplace or while acting within a job’s capacity. A worker can file for workers’ compensation for any injury while on the job, without having to prove an employer’s negligence to receive money for medical bills and other damages. When an employee is at fault for the injury, however, the rules can change.

Depending on the circumstances of your workplace injury, the courts may rule either way. Workers’ compensation typically operates on a no-fault system, meaning that an injured worker’s own negligence is not considered. In most cases, workers’ compensation simply covers the injured employee, even if Pokémon GO or another cause distracted him or her and directly caused the accident.

However, one notable exception is that under federal and California labor laws, workers’ compensation does not cover any injuries resulting from willful negligence or horseplay. If an employee violates an employer’s safety rules or performs employment duties while intoxicated, distracted, or otherwise indisposed, workers’ compensation will not necessarily cover resultant injuries. If an employer and an employee have different accounts about what happened, and who was or was not negligent at the time of the accident, the employer can go to court.

If the employer has evidence that the injured employee’s accident was the result of a distraction such as Pokémon GO, he or she has a horseplay or negligence defense. In these cases, the employer can argue the injuries only occurred because of the employee’s carelessness or goofing off, and was in no way related to an employer mistake. If the employer has enough evidence to support this claim, such as surveillance videos of the accident or eyewitness testimonies, the courts may rule against the distracted employee.

Distractions on the job can go both ways when it comes to workers’ compensation coverage. Arm yourself with a skilled Orange County workers’ compensation attorney if your employer tries to argue against you in a workers’ compensation claim. California requires employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance, regardless of the size of your company. Report your accident to your employer immediately, seek medical attention for injuries, and then file a claims report. An attorney can help you with denied claims or cases where you were partially at fault.