Off-Duty Flight Attendant Loses Claim for Benefits Arising from Injury Suffered Aboard United Flight

United AirlinesA job as a flight attendant can involve many potential hazards. For one United Airlines flight attendant, her injuries took place not while she was on-duty but while she was traveling off-duty aboard a United flight to go to work the next day. The First District Appellate Court, in addressing this employee’s case, concluded that she did not meet any of the factors that would show that she was a “traveling employee.” Since she did not qualify under the traveling employee exception, the flight attendant was deemed merely to be commuting to work and was not entitled to benefits.

The case took place after an off-duty United Airlines flight attendant injured her knee aboard a United flight from Denver to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Her injury occurred while she was traveling to New York to work on a flight the next day. The flight attendant “caught her foot where the seat row was bolted to the floor” and, tests later revealed, tore the ACL in her left knee. The flight attendant lived in Boulder and worked on United flights originating in New York’s Kennedy Airport.

The flight attendant filed a workers’ compensation claim. As part of her claim, the flight attendant argued that she was a traveling employee when she hurt her knee, which meant that she qualified for workers’ compensation benefits.

The workers’ compensation arbitrator, while noting a lack of case law on the topic, concluded that the flight attendant was entitled to benefits because past rulings had deemed flight attendants who were injured while on their way to their “work domicile” to be traveling employees. Since this flight attendant was en route to her work domicile of New York City, the arbitrator concluded that she met the standard for a traveling employee.

The case ultimately went to the Illinois Appellate Court, which decided that this flight attendant did not satisfy the legal definition of a traveling employee.

Workers’ compensation law in Illinois, as in most states, deems workers ineligible for benefits if they are injured during their commute to or from work. This is often called the “going-and-coming” rule. The “traveling employee” is one exception to this going-and-coming rule. There are several factors that can demonstrate that you are a traveling employee. If the employer directed you where to live or stay, assisted you with your travel arrangements, or provided reimbursement, these can be signs you’re a traveling employee.

The flight attendant in this case had none of these factors on her side. United did not require her to live in Colorado and work at a New York-based job; in fact, the airline offered her a transfer to Denver, but she refused. United did not assist the flight attendant with her travel back and forth between Colorado and New York and did not provide her with reimbursement.

The appeals court also undertook another analysis. The court pointed out that, if the flight attendant had lived in New York City and had been injured on her way to LaGuardia, she undeniably wouldn’t have qualified for benefits. Since the flight attendant chose to live in Boulder, which was “a personal decision in which United has no interest,” that did not change the result that she was merely an employee going to work when she was hurt.

When you are injured on the job, you need skilled Illinois counsel on your side to ensure you seek the damages awards and benefits to which you may be entitled. The knowledgeable Chicago airline workers’ compensation attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck have been representing people hurt at work for many years, including those in the airline industry. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Flying the Unfriendly Skies, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, Aug. 18, 2016

Number of Airline Accidents Dropped in 2015, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, March 16, 2016

Photo credit: Jules Meulemans at Wikimedia Commons.