Virginia Court Affirms Commission’s Safety Violation Finding

Driver’s Failure to Chock Wheels Results in Loss of Comp Benefits

A Virginia appellate court recently affirmed a finding by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission that a truck driver willfully violated known safety rules when he failed to chock the wheel on the employer’s truck during a stop [Callahan v. Rappahannock Goodwill, 2018 Va. App. LEXIS 288 (Oct. 23, 2018)]. Accordingly, under Va. Code Ann. § 65.2-306(A), the employee could not recover workers’ compensation benefits for injuries sustained when the truck suddenly rolled forward, causing the employee to fall from the truck bed.

Manager Told Driver He Must Utilize Wheel Chocks When Stoped

The employer’s safety manual contained a provision regarding the use of vehicles. It stated that the “vehicle engine must be shut off, ignition keys removed, and vehicle doors locked whenever the vehicle is left unattended.” The driver also acknowledged that at some point prior to the injury date, a senior manager of the employer instructed the driver to use wheel chocks when stopped and not to keep the truck idling.

At the hearing, the driver testified that he chocked the wheels and that the wheel chocks were defective. The deputy commissioner indicated that the driver’s testimony was in direct conflict with the physical evidence and that it stretched credulity that the truck could roll away from the loading dock on a level surface with the emergency brake set and the wheel chocks, albeit defective, in place. The deputy commissioner found, therefore, that the driver was barred from compensation because appellee sustained its burden of proving that the driver willfully violated known safety rules. The Commission affirmed the deputy commissioner’s opinion and adopted the factual findings and legal conclusions.

Appellate Court’s Decision

The appellate court found the record supported the conclusion that reasonable safety rules regarding securing company trucks existed. Moreover, the record supported a finding that the rules had been communicated to the driver through several methods. The Court found that that sufficient evidence supported the Commission’s conclusion that the driver violated the safety rules. Quoting Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 35.03, n.13, the Court agreed that the employer had sustained its burden of proving the driver willfully violated known safety rules. The driver’s claim was properly denied.

Second Safety Rules Violation in Two Weeks

This is the Virginia Court’s second decision in two weeks that found a driver was disqualified from receiving benefits for willful violation of safety rules. Earlier this month, I posted a piece about a driver who was disqualified for failing to utilize his vehicle seat belt.

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