A paid firefighter was traveling between a physical therapy appointment and a fire station to pick up his work mail when he was injured. Is he eligible for workers’ comp benefits?
Thaddus Roberts was a paid firefighter for Montgomery County, MD. He’d been injured at work and was on light duty, assigned to the fire department headquarters instead of his regular fire station. He was also encouraged by the fire department to get two hours of physical training per shift anywhere he wanted.
Some days when Roberts finished his physical training at a local high school he stopped at his regular fire station to pick up his mail. The mail included interoffice memos and letters from HR. His supervisors knew he picked up his mail while on light duty.
On one day while he was traveling between the high school and the fire station, Roberts crashed his motorcycle and was injured. He applied for workers’ comp, but Montgomery County contested the claim on the grounds his injury didn’t arise out of or in the course of his employment.
The workers’ comp commission denied his claim, agreeing with his employer’s argument.
Roberts appealed to a Maryland circuit court. The county argued his injury wasn’t in the course of his employment because the “going and coming” rule applied: Roberts was simply on his way to work.
The injured firefighter argued he should receive comp benefits because he was traveling from one work activity to another: from his work-related physical training to picking up his work mail.
The circuit court denied Roberts’ claim based on the going and coming rule: Employees don’t receive workers’ comp for injuries suffered when traveling to and from work.
Recently, the Maryland Court of Appeals heard this case. It said the question was whether the positional risk test or the going and coming rule pertained.
Under the positional risk test, the question is whether the injury would have occurred “but for” the fact that the conditions of employment placed the employee where the injury happened.
Roberts argues “but for” his participation in employer-encouraged physical exercise and gathering mail at his regular station, he would not have been traveling between the two places when he was injured.
The county argued the fire station wasn’t a work-related site. Roberts was assigned to the administration office during his light duty.
The appeals court sided with Roberts. It said the fire station was a work-related site because Roberts was picking up mail there.
Since Roberts was en route from a work-related activity (physical exercise) to a site where he was to engage in another work-related activity (picking up his mail), his travel was related to his employment, and he should receive workers’ comp benefits.
What do you think about this ruling? Let us know in the comments.
(Roberts v. Montgomery County Maryland, Court of Appeals of Maryland, No. 39 Sept. Term 2013, 1/28/14)