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    The Lawletter Blog

    WORKERS' COMPENSATION: Compensability—Employment-Related Travel in Employer-Provided Vehicle

    Posted by Matthew T. McDavitt on Tue, Nov 10, 2015 @ 12:11 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 40 No 10

    Matt McDavitt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         It is well settled under workers' compensation law nationally that, generally, worker injuries occurring coming to, or going from, work are not compensable in nature. However, an important exception to this rule exists regarding accidents in which workers are traveling in employer-supplied vehicles, where the worker is off duty but remains on call. For example, given that city police departments receive a benefit by having their police officers on call for duty at a moment's notice while driving their police cruisers, so long as the travel has some relation to employment, injuries received during such travel are compensable.

    [W]e are satisfied that the City enjoyed sufficient benefits from Ms. Ross's participation in the take-a-car-home program to affirm the Commission's determination of eligibility. The City does not dispute the Commission's conclusion that the City benefitted from the program by having more officers available for immediate response, from better care of patrol cars, and from increased police visibility. Officers with take-home cars were prepared to respond to emergency calls at any time. These officers always had at hand those items required to be kept in the take-home patrol cars, including their service gun, police radio, identification, flashlight, ticket book, report forms, and flares.

         ¶ 25 While it is also true that Ms. Ross enjoyed benefits from the program in the form of reduced transportation costs, these benefits are largely irrelevant to this scope-of-employment inquiry. Our focus is, instead, properly limited to whether the City derived sufficient benefits from the program to render Ms. Ross's injury one that occurred in the course of and arose out of her employment. The benefits conferred on Ms. Ross cannot be used to offset or diminish the significance of the benefits derived by the City in making this calculation.

    Salt Lake City Corp. v. Labor Comm'n, 2007 UT 4, ¶¶ 24-25, 153 P.3d 179, 183-84.

          In Collier v. County of Nassau, 362 N.Y.S.2d 52 (App. Div. 1974), a New York appellate court affirmed an award of workers' compensation benefits to injured police officers on similar reasoning:

         On November 28, 1972 claimant, a sergeant in the Nassau County Police Department, was injured in an automobile accident while traveling home after completing his tour of duty at 5:00 P.M. . . . The vehicle was assigned to a unit and claimant had used it for six months to go to and from his home. Claimant and three other policemen had use of the car for their convenience to drive to their homes and back again. . . . Claimant and all members of the police department were subject to recall when off duty.

         Appellant contends that claimant's injury was incurred while he was off duty and that his injury did not arise out of or in the course of his employment. The board held that "the employer provided transportation for the claimant in the form of a car, to and from his place of work and the accident happened before the claimant arrived home." Where the use of the employer's vehicle has been used by the employee over a period of time with the employer's consent and for the employer's benefit, the operation of the vehicle was directly related to the employment, and any injury occurring during such operation does arise out of and in the course of his employment. (Matter of Devito v. Imbriano, 39 A.D.2d 796, 332 N.Y.S.2d 577, affd. 33 N.Y.2d 757, 350 N.Y.S.2d 406, 305 N.E.2d 487.)

         In addition, since claimant was on call 24 hours a day and had the vehicle available for use in case of recall, he was under the control of his employer, and the use of the vehicle would be for the benefit of the employer. (Matter of Juna v. New York State Police, 40 A.D.2d 742, 336 N.Y.S.2d 738.)

         Decision affirmed, with costs to the Workmen's Compensation Board.

    Id. at 53.

         Similar reasoning was employed in a Georgia case, wherein the court affirmed an administrative law judge's ("ALJ") award of workers' compensation benefits to an off-duty deputy sheriff who had been injured in a motor vehicle collision while driving his employer-supplied patrol car to his part-time job as a security guard. The court affirmed that the sheriff's injuries had arisen in the scope and course of his employment, since police department policy permitted him to use the car for transportation to and from part-time security jobs, and while using the patrol car, he always had to be equipped for duty, in radio contact with the station, and on call to respond as necessary.

         Even when not working a scheduled shift, Negrete was on call 24 hours a day. At the time of the collision, he occupied a county-owned patrol car pursuant to a departmental policy that permitted him to use the vehicle for transportation to and from part-time security jobs, but which required that he be in uniform and carry his badge, identification, and authorized firearm. Also, he was required to and did radio the dispatcher that he was placing the vehicle in use. The deputy thereby became subject to respond to radio calls. While the vehicle was in such use, the deputy was required to render aid to motorists, back up other officers, respond to alarms or other incidents, and be observant for any suspicious or criminal behavior. Failure to perform these and other duties would subject the deputy to discipline. The lengthy description of the deputy's duties while using the county car to travel to or from a part-time security job is characterized in the testimony of the sheriff who opined that there was no meaningful difference between a deputy's duty while on regular patrol and while returning home from a part-time job.

         . . . .

         . . . The ALJ stated that "the employee was in the line of duty and prepared for action . . . ," while the appellate division noted the deputy's testimony that "he was performing the identical functions for the employer that he performed when he was on-duty." Thus, under the particular circumstances of this case, the ostensibly "off-duty" deputy is shown to have been acting in a capacity little different from an on-duty officer. The superior court did not err in affirming the award of workers' compensation benefits to Negrete.

    Harris County Sheriff's Office v. Negrete, 578 S.E.2d 579, 580-81 (Ga. Ct. App. 2003).

         Another example of analogous facts with a positive outcome appears in a Louisiana appellate decision. In that case, a police officer was involved in an accident while driving his patrol car en route to a psychology class related to duties of his employment. Because the officer's off-duty attendance at this class was of benefit to his employer, the cost of which was reimbursed by the City, and because of his 24-hour on-call status while driving the patrol car, the officer's accident was held to be in the course and scope of his employment.

         In the instant case, the record clearly establishes, when the accident occurred, that Sergeant Wilson was en route to a psychology class which related to the duties of his employment and, thus, was of benefit to his employer. Sergeant Wilson was reimbursed by the City for that educational expense. Sergeant Wilson was operating a vehicle assigned to him by his employer which his employer encouraged and, in essence, required him to use off-duty due to his 24-hour oncall status. Sergeant Wilson was required to monitor the radio at all times while in the vehicle and carried a pager supplied by his employer. This court finds that Sergeant Wilson's travel to attend class was employment-rooted as he probably would not have attended the course had it not been related to his duties with the police department and had his tuition not been reimbursed by the City. For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the ruling of the hearing officer.

    Wilson v. City of Shreveport, 28,846, pp. 5-6 (La. App. 2 Cir. 11/01/96); 682 So. 2d 882, 885.

         On analogous facts involving a prison official instead of a policeman, a New York judicial decision employed similar "benefit to employer" reasoning to hold that a superintendent of a state correctional facility was acting in the course of his employment, for purposes of the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers' Compensation Law, when the state-owned vehicle he was driving home after work collided with another vehicle. Because the superintendent was on call and had to be equipped for duty while driving the employer-provided car, the employer derived a clear benefit from the arrangement, and the accident was sufficiently related to employment to be covered under workers' compensation laws:

         The undisputed facts of the instant case establish that, as part of statewide departmental policy, the State provided defendant with a vehicle that he was expected to use for work-related travel, including driving to and from work. Defendant was "on call" 24 hours a day, and the vehicle was equipped with a cellular phone and short-wave radio so that he could be reached while in transit. Under those circumstances, the employer derived a benefit from defendant's use of the vehicle, and thus defendant's use of the vehicle for driving home from work was within the course of employment (see, Matter of Holcomb v. Daily News, supra; Matter of Collier v. County of Nassau, supra). Because plaintiff and defendant were in the course of the same employ at the time of the accident, workers' compensation benefits are plaintiff's exclusive remedy.

    Hill v. Speckard, 619 N.Y.S.2d 903, 905 (App. Div. 1994).

         This exclusive remedy theory may therefore prove useful where equivalent facts exist so that injured on-call workers can obtain workers' compensation benefits in circumstances where most employees would remain ineligible.

    Topics: Matthew T. McDavitt, workers' compensation, compensability, employment-related travel, The Lawletter Vol 40 No 10

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