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Colorado Workers’ Compensation Jurisdiction

Denver workers’ compensation attorney provides background and insights into how the system works for out-of-state injuries

When a worker living in Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo or Grand Junction gets injured on the job in Colorado, the jurisdiction is usually pretty clear cut. Colorado workers’ compensation laws will
apply, because they’re a resident of Colorado working in Colorado.

However, there are some cases where workers’ compensation case jurisdiction (i.e. which state’s laws apply) isn’t so clear.

Consider that many companies, especially construction firms, do business in other states. Or a worker may commute the 47 miles between Fort Collins and Cheyenne, Wyoming for their job.

So how does someone know which state’s laws they’re covered by in these situations?

In the first 25 years of Colorado’s workers’ compensation system, various appellate court cases and the Industrial Commission have developed rules on determining jurisdiction since there is very little information codified in the statutes on the matter.

In the early days, appellate courts found that “the law of the place of contract governed” – or, the place where an employment contract was finalized dictated which state’s laws apply. In Industrial Commission of Colorado v. Aetna Life Insurance, Co. for example, a Colorado based employer hired a Coloradan to supervise construction projects across the west. While travelling from Wyoming to Idaho one day, the worker was unfortunately killed in a car accident.

The court awarded full Colorado workers’ compensation benefits to the worker’s heirs, stating that it was a “…essential part of his employment that the deceased should travel…” and that the contract of employment created protection for the employee out-of-state. Without this protection, the employer would have to purchase workers’ comp insurance in every state they do business in – a prohibitive cost indeed.

Conversely, just because an injury occurs in Colorado doesn’t mean that the injured employee is automatically entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Another early theory of jurisdiction involved what’s called “substantial portion” of employment, which was codified in the case Platt v. Reynolds. An employment contract made in Colorado, with no other ties to the state, wasn’t enough to grant the injured employee coverage under Colorado workers’ compensation.

Until the landmark case Denver Truck Exchange v. Perryman in 1957, the Supreme Court held the view that “substantial portion” of employment was the principal factor in determining jurisdiction.

Clearer standards in determining jurisdiction arise from Denver Truck Exchange v. Perryman

This landmark Colorado workers’ compensation case in 1957 established the requirements for conferring jurisdiction in Colorado. To qualify, an injured worker had to meet two of the following three requirements:

  1. Contract of employment created in Colorado
  2. Employment in Colorado under a contract created outside the state
  3. Substantial employment in Colorado

As long as two of these three requirements are met, it makes no difference whether an employee is a Colorado resident or if they are a resident and working out-of-state at the time of their injury, provided other statutory time limits on out-of-state employment are met. Therefore, if the only tie to the state is location of the injury, the worker isn’t entitled to Colorado workers’ compensation benefits.

Statutory time limits are provided in more detail in the extraterritorial provisions of Colorado’s workers’ compensation statutes, which creates an exception to the rules outlined in the Perryman case. As long as an injury occurs out-of-state within six months of the time the claimant left the state, they are still covered.

To illustrate, let’s look at how this concept was applied in the State Compensation Insurance Fund v. Howington case. The injured worker was a miner hired in Colorado who was immediately sent to work in Utah. Even though he never worked in Colorado and was going to be working in Utah for an indefinite period of time, he was awarded Colorado workers’ compensation benefits because his injury occurred within six months of his hiring and assignment to work in Utah.

However, extraterritorial provisions do require the claimant to have been physically present in Colorado at some time. For example, in Hathaway Lighting v. Industrial Claims Appeals Office, a claimant who was a resident of Washington State and hired by a Colorado firm to work on projects out-of-state was injured while working in Oregon. The court determined the worker was not entitled to Colorado workers’ compensation benefits under extraterritorial provisions since he had never set foot in Colorado from his hire date to the date of injury.

Remember, if you meet two of the three conditions outlined above, you likely qualify to receive benefits for an on-the-job injury under Colorado law. It sometimes can be confusing to determine which state’s laws apply to your situation.

If you’re having trouble obtaining your benefits because you fall into one of these special situations, contact Denver workers’ compensation attorneys at the Babcock Law Firm today for a no-risk, no-fee consultation.

Continue reading these related articles for more information…

Talk with Us Today – a Free, No-Risk Consultation

Discuss the details of your claim with a Colorado Workers’ Compensation lawyer at The Babcock Firm today. No matter where you are in the state of Colorado, if your case falls within our practice area and we feel our representation can benefit you, an attorney will conduct an in-depth consultation at no charge. We are here to help you secure a successful outcome. Contact us today and learn more about how representation works.


While the Babcock Law Firm tirelessly works to obtain successful outcomes for its clients, prior positive outcomes are no guarantee of future success. Indicating prior positive results is in no way intended to guarantee future results.

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