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Work comp benefits denied to prison guard injured while traveling to work a swapped shift - II

In our previous post, we examined a recent workers' compensation case before the California Court of Appeals, which examined whether an employee who suffered injuries in a car accident on his way to work a swapped shift is entitled to work comp benefits.

Please see "Work comp benefits denied to prison guard injured while traveling to work a swapped shift" for background information ...

Post continued

Robert D. subsequently appealed the denial of work comp benefits to the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, which found that the "special mission" exception to the going and coming rule could be applied in his case.

The "special mission" exception states that an employee can receive compensation for injuries sustained during the course of their regular commute if they were performing a special mission for their employer.

In order for the special mission exception to apply, three elements must be satisfied under California law:

  1. The activity must be "special," meaning "extraordinary in relation to the employee's routine duties"
  2. The activity must be within the course of the employee's job
  3. The activity must be carried out at the express or implied request of the employer and for the employer's benefit.

Here, the appeals boards found that all three elements were satisfied and awarded work comp benefits to Robert D. Specifically, it found that Robert D.'s shift swapping was extraordinary in relation to his duties, and that the Department of Corrections both benefited from shift swapping and that granted its implied approval of such conduct.

The Department of Corrections appealed to the California Court of Appeals, which annulled the award of work comp benefits to Robert D.

The justices held that while the state/Department of Corrections did indeed benefit from shift swapping and such conduct was in the course of employment, every shift could not be identified as "special" since doing so would essentially negate the concept altogether.

"Employers, in general, require sufficient workers on hand to perform their jobs, but it does not follow that it is fulfilling a special need," reads the unpublished opinion. "If this need were used as the basis for the exception to the going and coming rule, then we would have to find that any officer driving to work for his regular shift was also engaged in a special mission. The going and coming rule would be swallowed up."

Furthermore, the court pointed out that to award Robert D. work comp benefits would produce great inconsistency. Here, Robert D. would get work comp benefits for the injuries sustained in the accident, but if the officer originally scheduled to work the shift had been injured in the exact same accident, he would receive nothing.

Stay tuned for further exciting developments in the area of workers' compensation defense law ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Sources:

Business Management Daily, "Injury while commuting to swapped shift? That doesn't warrant workers' comp," Dec. 10, 2012

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, No. E054153 (Cal. Ct. App.)

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