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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Special Errand exception - Workers' Compensation eligibility for injury suffered going to or from work


Special Errand exception - Workers' Compensation eligibility for injury suffered going to or from work
Dziedzic v Orchard Park CSD, 283 AD2d 878

A kindergarten teacher employed by the Orchard Park Central School District died as the result of an automobile accident that occurred while she was traveling to school.

Just prior to the accident, the teacher had stopped at a store to purchase items to be used by her students in a classroom project, as she had done many times before during her long tenure with the school district. The store was along Dziedzic's regular route to school and the accident happened after she had exited the store's parking lot and was on her way to her school.

The Workers' Compensation Board ruled that accident arose out of and in the course of the teacher's employment and said that the payment of workers' compensation death benefits was appropriate under the circumstances. The district and its workers' compensation carrier had controverted the claim* and subsequently appealed the Board's decision.

The Appellate Division pointed out that the general rule in such situations is that injuries sustained during travel to and from work are not compensable under the Workers' Compensation Law. However, the court quickly noted, this general rule is subject to a number of exceptions, including an exception for an injury or death that occurs in the course of an individual performing a “special errand.”

The “special errand” exception is triggered when it is determined that the employee's travel serves a purpose of the employer. Injuries sustained by workers in the course of such travel may be compensable. There is a “two-prong” test that is applied in making such a determination. The special errand exception is applicable only if it is determined that the employer both:

1. Encouraged the errand; and

2. Obtained a benefit from the employee's performance of the errand.

The Appellate Division said that there was “evidence in the record that Dziedzic and her fellow kindergarten teachers at the school employed a hands-on, developmental approach to teaching, with the students involved in activities which included projects that required the purchase of materials that were not available in the school.” The district, said the court, was aware of the activities and recognized them as extra efforts or enhancements in the teachers' annual evaluations.

Further, said the court, the record indicated that the district knew of this practice by their teachers which involved their routinely purchasing classroom project materials outside the school to facilitate their hands-on approach to teaching and the district “neither discouraged nor placed any limitations on the purchases which, depending upon the dollar amount, were subject either to reimbursement or the use of a purchase order.”

The Appellate Division sustained the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board's conclusion that Dziedzic was engaged in a “special errand” when she was involved in this fatal accident as there was substantial evidence demonstrating that the employer not only benefited from the teachers purchases of materials outside the school, but also encouraged those purchases.

In Dziedzic the employee was on her way to work when she was involved in the accident. Does the same rule apply in cases where the individual is injured after he or she leaves work?

Neacosia v NY Power Authority, 85 NY2d 471, decided by the Court of Appeal, involved such a variation of the facts -- the employee was injured after he left work and while he was driving to his home.

Michael Neacosia, a New York Power Authority security officer, was involved in an automobile accident after he stopped on his way home from work to leave his work uniform at a cleaning shop. The basic question: Was Neacosia acting within the scope of his employment and thus was eligible for workers' compensation benefits when he suffered his injuries?

According to the decision, Neacosia was required to keep his “employer provided uniforms” clean and presentable. To this end, the Authority had made arrangements with a number of cleaning establishments to clean these uniforms and to bill the agency for their services. In the alternative, security personnel could arrange for the cleaning themselves and submit bills for the cost of the cleaning to the Authority.

The critical elements in this case:

1. Neacosia completed his shift, left work, and in the course of driving home, stopped to deliver his uniforms to one of the cleaners recommended by the Authority. After leaving his uniform at the cleaning establishment, Neacosia continued to head home along his usual route.

2. After leaving the cleaners, Neacosia was involved in an automobile accident in which he sustained severe injuries.

The Authority controverted his application for workers' compensation benefits.

Applying the special exceptions rule, the Court of Appeals sustained the Workers' Compensation Board's ruling that Neacosia was engaged in a “special errand” at the time he was injured and thus eligible for Workers' Compensation benefits.

* In the event the employer and, or, the employer’s insurer challenges a Workers’ Compensation Award, it has “controverted the claim.”

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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