Many employees of companies in Chicago and elsewhere have travel accident insurance through an employee benefit plan provided by the employer. Many people have this insurance, but few know what it actually covers. Of course, it appears to cover accidents that occur while traveling. But the policies usually define what it means to be traveling, and it may not mean what you would expect it to mean. Most policies exclude traveling to or from work, and some further elaborate on that definition by specifically mention commuting, or traveling to or from a regular office. However, these policies can be less clear for employees who do not have a regular place of work, such as many traveling sales representatives. Or you may be making an emergency trip to work outside of the normal course of employment because some hazard occurred in the middle of the night. One such case occurred recently where an employee of Lowe’s had to make an emergency trip to the store in the middle of the night in response to an alarm.
In Porter v. Lowe’s Cos., Inc. Business Travel Accident Insurance Plan, No. 12-60683 (5th Cir. Sept. 24, 2013), Ms. Porter worked as a manager at a Lowe’s store. After her shift had ended, and on her way home, she received a telephone call that a security alarm had sounded and that she needed to return to the store. While on her way back to the store, he was involved in a car accident and died. Her husband submitted a claim for travel accident insurance benefits to the plan, but the plan denied the claim. The plan excluded losses caused by “travel to and from work” and it reasoned Ms. Porter was traveling to work to perform her regular job duties.
After Mr. Porter sued for the benefits under ERISA § 502(a), the district court ruled in his favor, but the appellate court reversed, siding with the Plan. According to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the cases relied upon by Mr. Porter and the district court mostly contained clarification about a “travel to and from work” exclusion by including further limiting words like “commuting”, “day-to-day”, or “everyday.” Plus, Ms. Porter’s job description required her to be available in the evenings.
The only way to truly know what is covered by your travel accident insurance plan is to have a knowledgeable ERISA lawyer review the plan document or insurance policy. If you have questions regarding your travel accident insurance benefits, or a question about a potential claim, contact an experienced ERISA lawyer.