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Workers Compensation for Victims of Highway Crash?

The fiery crash yesterday which killed three immigrant workers commuting in a dangerous 15 passenger van to a factory on Long Island raises interesting workers compensation legal issues. The workers who packed the van were from a Brooklyn Haitian community almost 50 miles away from bath products factory on Long Island. It is increasingly common for Long Island employers to recruit immigrant workers from the city and provide transportation. Employers simply can’t find enough Long Islanders to do simple factory work at the low wages they are willing to pay. I have had cases involving Long Island employers importing workers from as far away as New Jersey.
This is where the workers compensation question comes in. Are the workers entitled to workers compensation for their injuries commuting to work? In this case, the answer could be YES. The general rule is that workers are not covered while going to or from work. However, there are exceptions. If the employee is being transported in the employer’s vehicle for the benefit of the employer (i.e. to recruit and retain a stable workforce), then the workers are covered. Even if the employer in this case did not own the vehicle, but simply arranged for the transportation and subsidized the cost, the employer could be on the hook for workers compensation payments. All 15 passengers of the van suffered some injuries. As the investigation of this tragic crash unfolds, it will be interesting to find out who arranged for and paid for the workers’ van service.

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