Motor Vehicle Accidents and Willful Misconduct
A common scenario in employment discharge cases, especially with commercial truck drivers, is a discharge based upon a “preventable accident.” Some employers will discharge an employee based upon a single incident depending on its severity or based upon multiple incidents which may be less severe. The fact that an accident has occurred, however, does not in and of itself preclude one’s eligibility for unemployment compensation benefits – even if the accident was determined to be “preventable.” In the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case of Myers v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, the Court considered whether a truck driver, who was involved in three motor vehicle accidents while on duty, was eligible for unemployment compensation. The truck driver was initially found ineligible for benefits, however, the Supreme Court reversed finding that an employer cannot demonstrate willful misconduct by “merely showing that an employee committed a negligent act, but instead must present evidence indicating that the conduct was of an intentional and deliberate nature.” The Court recognized that “negligence” and “willful misconduct” are not interchangeable concepts. It stated that “[m]ere ‘negligence’ does not rise to the level of ‘willful misconduct’ without the additional element of an intentional disregard of the employer’s interests.” To meet its burden of proof in cases such as these, the Employer must establish an employee’s conduct is of “such a degree or recurrence as to manifest culpability, wrongful intent, or evil design, or show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer’s interest or of the employee’s duties and obligations to the employer.” As a result, the Court found the truck driver eligible for unemployment benefits.
Another common development of on the job motor vehicle accidents are injuries sustained by drivers. Some drivers may think that they may be ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they were responsible for the accident. That is not necessarily the case. If you were injured in a motor vehicle accident, even if it was your fault, you should provide notice to your Employer immediately and you may want to speak to an experienced Pennsylvania employment attorney to figure out your unemployment and workers’ compensation options.