Hurt on an Airplane while Traveling for Work

Earlier this month, the Workers’ Compensation Commission of Maryland found a claim compensable where an employee was injured during turbulence on an airplane.  The injured worker was on a business trip and was flying home to Maryland from New York City.

The sole purpose of the employee’s trip was business-related; his employer purchased the plane tickets. These are the types of facts that can be important in cases like this.  Generally, injuries that occur when an employee is traveling to and from work are not compensable under the workers’ compensation laws of Maryland.  However, there are exceptions to this general rule, such as where an employer purchases an employee’s plane tickets for a business trip.

In this particular case, the employee injured his back.  Back injuries can be tricky in workers’ comp, especially if there are any pre-existing conditions.  This employee had previous lower back issues, but had injured his mid back during the turbulence on the airplane.  More specifically, rather than reinjuring his lumbar spine (low back), he suffered a new injury to the thoracic spine (mid back).  This fact was presented to the Commission through an Independent Medical Evaluation of a qualified orthopedic doctor.

Independent Medical Evaluations, or IMEs, can make or break a comp case.  For example, the insurance company can send an injured worker to a doctor that the insurance company handpicks, and that doctor could then return an IME report stating that an injury is unrelated to employment.  This is not unusual.  That is why it is important to contact an attorney if the insurance company schedules you for an IME.  An attorney experienced in workers’ comp would know how to best contest the opinion of the insurer’s doctor.  Oftentimes, this would involve sending an injured worker for an additional IME with a different doctor, and then subsequently using the second doctor’s report to combat the insurer’s IME.