Workers compensation jurisdiction: injury in one state, employment in another

July 1st, 2004 by Julie Ferguson

If a worker is employed in one state but suffers an on-the-job injury in another state, under which state would benefits be paid? This is a question that frequently surfaces, particularly with today’s often-mobile work force. As with many things in workers comp, it can be confusing for employers and injured workers alike, and the difference in benefits from state to state can be significant.
Remember, there is no one national law for workers comp – state law prevails. Each state has a different level of benefits. Maximum weekly benefits for temporary total disability range from a scanty $331 a week in Mississippi to a high of $1,103 in Iowa. Federal employees who are covered under the Federal Employee’s Compensation Act may be entitled to up to $1596 a week in wage replacement. (Source: DOL)
The vagaries in benefits from one state to another don’t stop at wage replacement. Other issues might include whether the employee or the employer can choose the physician, the length of the waiting period before benefits kick in, whether vocational rehabilitation is covered, how long benefits will be paid, survivor benefits in cases of fatalities, etc. The jurisdiction may also have an effect on an employer’s immunity from tort action or rights of recovery through subrogation.
Each state treats jurisdictional issues differently. In his September 2000 article for the International Risk Management Institute, Jurisdiction in Workers Compensation Cases, Jim Pocius presents an overview of the topic. Generally, the state where an injury occurred will have jurisdiction; most states will also assume jurisdiction if an employment contract was initiated in that state or when a state is the principal place of employment. In conflicting scenarios, an employee might select the state to file a claim, although the employer might dispute this. In some cases there might be dual jurisdiction with benefits partially paid by each state. (In such cases, there would not be full benefits from each state.)
The claims that resulted from the September 11, 2001 events illustrate many of the jurisdictional complexities that can exist. Many of the deceased or injured workers lived in New Jersey but were employed in New York; other workers were employed by multi-state or multi-global firms. Dual jurisdictional issues were rife. John Gelman and Lewis Heller discuss these issues in some depth in an article entitled World Trade Center Tragedy Creates Complex Workers’ Compensation Issues
“Recognizing that employment relationships are becoming more geographically complex as a result of interstate and international relationships, the courts have become increasingly challenged with problems of choice of law. Sometimes the courts have to go beyond the traditional tests (site of injury, site of contract, or site of employment) in order to determine which forum