Division I: Commuting Fuel Not Covered by L&I
Yuchasz drove a company vehicle, which he drove from his home to his jobs and then back home. He was injured on the job. When he returned to work, it was light duty, and he didn’t need the vehicle for his light duty work. However, where the company paid the gas on the company vehicle, they didn’t pay the gas for his personal vehicle and the commute. He tried to claim this plaid into his wage loss claim, which includes benefits as part of the job, including “board, housing, fuel, or other consideration of like nature received from theemployer as part of the contract of hire,” per the statute.
Now, at first glance, that would seem to fall into it, right? Wrong. That fuel mentioned above is of the type like housing fuel where you take a job and the employer pays for your housing fuel, or maybe your rent, or maybe they pay your electric bill. It refers to things that are made a part of your employment contract. Darn straight, if the company moved me to Siberia, you can rest assured they would be paying my heating bill or I’d be walking out the door. Lucky for me, now that I have my own firm, this is not a huge issue.
No, the Company never really paid for fuel for personal use, because Yuchasz was not allowed to use the vehicle for personal use. As we all know (well, those of us that went through the horror of the first year of law school), a commute is not a covered activity. The boss isn’t responsible for you until you clock in. The Court held the fuel for commuting was not covered, because fuel for commuting is not critical to a worker’s basic health and survival, which is what the fuel in the statute was referring to. Instead, it is a fringe benefit, akin to claiming you were due a pack of trail mix because the company keeps it around in the break room, but you didn’t get to go to the break room and missed out on trail mix.
We hold that under Cockle, the reasonable value of the employer-provided gasoline for use in the company van is a fringe benefit that is not critical to the basic health and survival of the worker at the time of injury. We reject the argument that excluding the reasonable value of employer-provided gasoline for use in the company van is contrary to the intent of the IIA to reduce the suffering and economic loss “arising from injuries and/or death occurring in the course of employment." RCW 51.12.010. As the Supreme Court concluded In Cockle, "we do not believe injury-caused deprivation of the reasonable value of fringe benefits that are not critical to protecting workers’ basic health and survival qualifies as the kind of 'suffering' that Title 51 was legislatively designed to remedy." Cockle, 142 Wn.2d at 82310 (citing RCW 51.12.010).
We affirm summary judgment and the decision of the BIIA.