In West Virginia (WV) and many other states, workers' compensation claimants are entitled to travel reimbursement for all medical appointments related to their claims, including both independent medical evaluations (IMEs) and all treatment appointments. What is included in "travel reimbursement"? More specifically, what is an employer legally required to do when faced with a request for WV workers' compensation meal reimbursement?
The Facts on WV Workers' Compensation Meal Reimbursement
The commonly held interpretation in the Mountain state is that while claimants are entitled to mileage reimbursement for all related travel, they may only receive meal reimbursements if their travel requires an overnight stay.
If you "Google" the phrase, "West Virginia Workers' Compensation travel voucher," you will find examples of travel voucher forms that state the "rule" requiring an overnight stay. This interpretation is supported by W. Va. Code of State Rules 85-1-15.1, which states, in pertinent part: "Claimants are entitled to reasonable travel, meals and lodging expenses actually incurred in connection with an authorized medical examination or treatment. In determining the reasonableness of such expenses, the responsible party shall utilize the travel regulations for State employees as a guide, unless specific provisions to the contrary are otherwise contained herein." Rule 4.3 of the State of WV Travel Rules provides that "meal expenses are reimbursable for travel requiring overnight lodging."
What the Law Says about WV Workers' Compensation Meal Reimbursement
So this is all very clear and there is no problem, right? Well, as is so often the case, it may not be quite that cut-and-dried. West Virginia Code § 23-4-8(d) states that claimants "shall be reimbursed for reasonable traveling expenses" for treatment and medical evaluations. The next section of the statute, 23-4-8(e), states that "claimant's traveling expenses include, at a minimum, reimbursement for meals, lodging and milage [sic]." Then, in the sentence discussing travel in a personal motor vehicle, the law provides that reimbursement "shall be at the milage [sic] reimbursement rates contained in the Department of Administration's Purchasing Division Travel Rules." In other words, although the statute says that State travel regulations control the mileage reimbursement rate, it does not specifically address meal reimbursement requiring an overnight stay.
Comparing the Law and Applicable Rule on Meal Reimbursement
To date, the WV Supreme Court has not found the statute and the Rule in conflict with one another. Some have argued that the statute may trump the Rule and that the Court could hold that meals are reimbursable for all medically-related travel, whether there is an overnight stay or not. In fact, our firm actively represents employers in claims involving this very issue.
The statute and Rule can and should be read to not conflict with one another. Without the application of the state travel Rule, there would theoretically be no limit on what "reasonable" traveling expenses are, at least as to meals and lodging.
The logical result of reading the law and the rule to be in conflict is that a claimant could drive down the block to a physical therapy appointment and be entitled to a steak dinner Attempting to create a conflict between the law and the rule in this way is dangerous, placing both reason and unnecessary dollars in jeopardy.
Indeed, the law specifically says that claimants are entitled to "reasonable" traveling expenses. For that reason, requiring an overnight stay is logical, fair, and easy to apply. It seems obvious that the Legislature did not intend for employers to be on the hook for meal reimbursement for each and every appointment, regardless of time and distance traveled.
In short, the rule on WV workers' compensation meal reimbursement is clear when an overnight stay is required. However, in many cases, if a claimant requests meal reimbursement without the requisite overnight stay, the prudent approach would likely be to deny the reimbursement in a protestable order. This gives a claimant the opportunity to present a legal challenge to the employer's decision.
The law on WV workers' compensation meal reimbursement can be tricky to navigate and is best handled with legal advice specific to the situation at hand. If you do business in WV and would like assistance with this or any workers' compensation issue, the attorneys at Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC can help. Contact me, Steven K. Wellman, by calling (866) 617-4736 or by completing our Contact form.
THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT. It is presented for promotional, informational and/or educational purposes and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC, 328 8th Street, Huntington, WV 25701-2225. Phone: 866.617.4736 (toll free).