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The Supreme Court of Vermont ruled Friday that a Burlington, Vermont-based transportation authority does not have to provide workers compensation benefits to a volunteer driver who was injured in a car accident while participating in a program that provides rides for medical appointments to those outside of its regular bus routes.
In 2014, Joanne Perrault volunteered to work with the program, which offered no salary but reimbursed for mileage, providing Ms. Perrault an average of $265.49 per week, which she integrated into her weekly household budget, according to documents in Joanne Perrault v. Chittenden County Transportation Authority.
In 2015 Ms. Perrault was in an accident while driving a CCTA rider to an appointment, suffering injuries that included a broken neck and fractured spine. She subsequently sought workers compensation benefits, according to court records filed in Montpelier, Vermont.
Prior to assigning riders, CCTA provides volunteers with a manual that “in addition to explaining the restrictions and requirements discussed above, also states that the manual should not be understood to mean that any employment contract exists between CCTA and the volunteer driver,” court records state. The company, therefore, rejected her claim.
Ms. Perrault appealed to the state labor commissioner, who judged that she was not a “statutory employee” because she did not receive wages outside of the mileage reimbursement.
Friday’s ruling affirmed that decision, focusing on the fact that the mileage reimbursement was meant to pay for miles driven.
“While Vermont's definition of wages for purposes of workers’ compensation is broad enough to encompass nonmonetary earnings, it will not stretch so far as to encompass payments which only serve to make the recipient whole. Therefore, we conclude that claimant did not receive wages and cannot be considered an employee of CCTA.”
Vermont employers will save a total of $10 million under lower workers compensation insurance rates this spring, according to Gov. Phil Scott’s office.