A police lieutenant for a city primarily did office work, but she was also involved with community policing. She did not have scheduled break periods, but she would routinely leave the office to get coffee at a coffee shop located one block from her office. She usually purchased coffee and immediately returned to her office to drink it at her desk. While the lieutenant was away from the office, she was "still on duty and expected to carry a cell phone, respond to calls, and return to the office if needed." She also performed police duties during her walk to the coffee shop. She previously witnessed a traffic accident and rendered aid, assisted a woman who was fearful of her domestic partner, and applied a fire extinguisher to a car on fire.
On the day of her injury, she left her office and began to cross the street, heading toward the coffee shop. She had her cellphone with her. She was struck by a car and sustained multiple injuries.
The lieutenant sought workers' compensation benefits but the city denied her claim. The administrative law judge determined that her injuries were compensable. The workers' compensation board affirmed, rejecting the city's argument that the going and coming rule prevented compensation.
Was the board correct in awarding compensation?
A. No. At the time the lieutenant was injured, she was engaged in a solely personal mission to get coffee.
B. Yes. The lieutenant's community policing job responsibilities exposed her to the risks of being on the street, including being struck by a car.
The lieutenant's work in the office did not expose her to the risk associated with crossing the street.
How the court ruled: B. The Oregon Court of Appeals held that the board correctly found the lieutenant's accident arose out of her employment and her injuries were compensable. City of Eugene v. McDermed, No. A144661 (Or. Ct. App. 06/27/12).
The court said that when she was on duty and on the street, the street was her "work environment" and any injury she suffered as a result of work-related risks or neutral risks associated with the environment compensably arose out of her employment.
A is incorrect. The court explained that when the lieutenant was injured she was still on duty and subject to the city's direction and control. Although her motivation was to buy a cup of coffee, she was obligated to perform community policing functions while she was on the street. The court found the going and coming rule did not apply and the lieutenant's injury occurred within the course of her employment.
C is incorrect. The court explained that her work had community policing job responsibilities, which exposed her to the risk of being hit by a car on the street. Her work environment was not confined to her office. Her work environment on the street encompassed the totality of the circumstances to which she was exposed as 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.
Editor's note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.
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August 30, 2012
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