A police officer left the station to walk one block and get a cup of coffee. She was struck by a car and seriously injured. Should she get workers’ compensation benefits?
Carolyn McDermed was a lieutenant for the Eugene, OR, police department. Her duties were mostly at the police station as part of the Office of Professional Standards.
In April 2008, she left the station to get a cup of coffee across the street. She was struck by a car at the intersection and suffered multiple injuries to her head, right foot and chest.
McDermed applied for workers’ comp benefits. The city denied her request because her injuries didn’t occur “in the course of” nor “arose out of” her employment. She appealed the decision, and an administrative law judge (ALJ) awarded her benefits.
An appeal by the city was upheld by a workers’ comp board. The city took the case to a state appeals court.
The comp board’s decision noted that while McDermed’s duties primarily involved office work, her responsibilities included all police lieutenant and officer duties.
In addition, during her 17 years with the police force, McDermed had been responsible for instituting the city’s community policing efforts. Community policing included “engaging the community in problem solving strategies to not only react to crime, but to prevent it,” and “meeting a lot of people and being exposed to these people as a police officer and working with them.”
Each day, McDermed took a short break to get a cup of coffee and immediately return to drink it at her desk. During that time she was still on duty and expected to carry a cell phone and respond to calls.
Over the years, she also acted as an on-duty officer while going to get coffee. For example:
- Once she witnessed a traffic crash on the street between the station and the coffee shop. She responded by administering first aid and calling for emergency assistance.
- Another time she encountered a vehicle on fire near the station and used a fire extinguisher and then provided crowd control.
In its appeal to the state court, the city argued at the time of the injury, McDermed was engaged in a “solely personal mission.”
However, the appeals court agreed with the previous rulings. McDermed “did not cease being an on-duty police officer when she left her office and entered the street,” the court wrote in its opinion. She was still on duty and required to perform police duties as she encountered them.
The city also argued that the lieutenant wasn’t performing a police duty at the time she was struck by the car.
Once again, the appeals court shot down the city’s argument, noting the community policing component of her job required “interacting with people on the streets to discuss public issues,” and that exposed her to certain risks, including being struck by a car.
Even without the community policing aspect of her job, the court said it would have upheld the board’s decision, “so long as she was on duty and subject to a continuing obligation to act as a law enforcement officer in response to events she encountered.”
The previous decision was upheld. The appeals court said McDermed should receive workers’ comp benefits.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments below.
(City of Eugene v. McDermed, Court of Appeals of OR, No. A144661, 6/27/12)