The Massachusetts Contributory Retirement Appeals Board recently upheld the denial of an Accidental Disability Retirement Application filed by a mechanic and heavy equipment operator for the Spencer Highway Department because the applicant distracted by his use of a cell phone while driving. The Worcester Regional Retirement Board (WRRB) determined that the applicant’s injuries resulted from a motor vehicle accident which was caused by his improper cell phone use. He was operating a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck southbound on Route 31 in Spencer, Massachusetts when he rear-ended a school bus which was stopped with its red lights flashing.
The Retirement Board denied the Accidental Disability Retirement because it found that the employee’s injuries were the result of “serious and willful misconduct,” as set forth in G.L. c. 32, § 7(1). The misconduct consisted of him spending more than ten seconds attending to his cell phone while driving a heavy pickup truck and rear-ending a school bus, which was stopped in front of him and was displaying its flashing red lights.
According to the accident reconstruction report, during a period of 10.45 seconds, the employee did nothing to avoid hitting the school bus. He did not use his brakes or attempt to swerve out of the way. The pickup truck simply continued to travel at 44 miles per hour until it crashed into the rear of the school bus at that speed, pushing the bus forward 16.1 feet.
The disability retirement claimant appealed the Retirement Board’s decision to the Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA) and that agency upheld the Worcester Regional Retirement Board’s denial. The DALA Magistrate ruled that the claimant engaged in “serious and willful misconduct” when, while driving a three-ton truck at over 40 miles per hour, he spent at least ten seconds focusing his attention on his cell phone, to the point where he did not notice a full-sized yellow school bus stopped directly in front of him, with its blinking red lights activated, and simply drove at full speed into the rear of the bus.
The claimant appealed further to the Massachusetts Contributory Retirement Appeals Board and the Board agreed that he committed “serious and willful misconduct” such that denial of his ADR application was proper. The CRAB ruled that the claimant he has not established that his injuries resulted from his work duties. Instead, the injuries resulted from distracted driving which constituted “serious and willful misconduct” and the denial of his application was lawful.