A volunteer for the mounted posse program established by the county sheriff assisted the sheriff in its mission and operations. Prospective members were trained in traffic control and crowd management, crime scene protection, dealing with the public and first aid. Possible deployments included patrols at shopping centers, special events, in parks, and on trails, as well as search and recovery and appearances at parades and recruiting events. All riders and their horses had to regularly be tested for qualification skills. The volunteer said it was usual for the sheriff to pay for training, and meals were provided during deployments. The sheriff provided shirts and caps for the volunteers, but the volunteers provided the rest of their clothing and tack.
The volunteer and her horse were undergoing additional training for three days. She felt that her horse was becoming upset and tried to position him away from the activity so that he could become calm. The trainer instructed the volunteer to rejoin the group for more firecracker training. The volunteer complied, believing that she had to obey. Her horse spooked at the firecrackers, and she was thrown off and suffered injuries.
The volunteer sought workers' compensation benefits. California law provides that employee status be given to those engaged in the performance of law enforcement duties as part of the posse comitatus, which provides assistance in active law enforcement services. However, the law excludes from the definition of "employee" a person performing voluntary service for a public agency who received no remuneration other than meals, transportation, lodging, or reimbursement for incidental expenses. The workers' compensation judge found that the volunteer was not a covered employee. On appeal, the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board found that she was entitled to benefits. The sheriff appealed.
Was the board correct in finding the injury was compensable?
A. No. The volunteer was not an employee because she was providing services to a public agency and received no remuneration.
B. Yes. The volunteer's service in the mounted posse was part of the posse comitatus.
C. Yes. The volunteer was providing a benefit or service to the sheriff during her training.
How the court ruled: A. In an unpublished decision, the California Court of Appeal held that the volunteer's injury was not compensable. County of Riverside v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, No. E055965 (Cal. Ct. App. 12/14/12, unpublished).
The court pointed out that the volunteer fit into the exclusion of an employee providing services to a public agency. She felt that she had to obey the trainer's order to position her horse closer to the firecrackers. As a volunteer, she was subject to the direction and control of the sheriff employees that she assisted.
B is incorrect. The court explained that membership in a group that existed for ceremonial and publicity purposes was not the same as being engaged in active law enforcement services. She was not providing any active law enforcement services.
C is incorrect. The court pointed out that the volunteer was not applying for a regular position as a sheriff's deputy, but she was training her horse to maximize its performance in a volunteer group.
Editor's note: This feature is not intended as instructional
material or to replace legal advice.
February 19, 2013
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