October 07, 2014

The “going and coming to work” rule may affect an injured employee’s eligibility for disability benefits

The “going and coming to work” rule may affect an injured employee’s eligibility for disability benefits
Dreher v DiNapoli, 2014 NY Slip Op 06631, Appellate Division, Third Department

Among Court Officer John P. Dreher’s duties was transporting a judge who needed assistance to the courthouse from his residence. While traveling to the judge's residence Dreher took a brief detour in order to purchase a cup of coffee and was struck by a car while crossing the street, sustaining various injuries.

Dreher obtained line of duty injury benefits as provided under the controlling collective bargaining agreement. He then filed an application with the New York State Employees' Retirement System seeking accidental disability retirement benefits. His application was denied and Dreher appealed the System's decision..

The Appellate Division affirmed the Retirement System’s determination. The court explained that the State Comptroller "is vested with exclusive authority to determine all applications for retirement benefits, including the question of whether an accidental injury was sustained while in service, and if supported by substantial evidence, the determination must be upheld.”

The court noted that while Dreher testified that he was on duty when he was injured, he "'was engaged in a personal activity rather than performing work duties at the time when the incident occurred."

Finding that substantial evidence supported the Comptroller's determination that Dreher was not in service when he was injured, and notwithstanding the fact that he received line of duty injury benefits under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the court dismissed Dreher’s appeal.

Determining whether an individual was “in service” for the purposes of establishing eligibility for Workers’ Compensation benefits was an issue in Neacosia v NY Power Authority, 85 NY2d 471.

Here the Court of Appeals affirmed the Workers’ Compensation Board’s decision  that Michael Neacosia, who was injured after he stopped on his way home to leave his work uniform at a cleaning shop, was acting within the scope of his employment and thus was eligible for workers' compensation benefits.

Neacosia was a security officer employed by the New York State Power Authority. The Authority provided its security officers with uniforms and required that they keep the uniforms clean and presentable. To this end the Authority had made arrangements with a number of cleaning establishments to clean their security officers’ uniforms and bill the agency for their services. In the alternative, security personnel could arrange for the cleaning themselves and then submit bills to the Authority for the cost of the cleaning.

Neacosia, after completing his tour of duty, left work and then stopped to deliver his uniforms for cleaning at one of the cleaners recommended by the Authority, which would then bill the Authority for its services.

Leaving the cleaning establishment, Neacosia headed home along his usual route and was involved in an automobile accident in which he sustained severe injuries. The Authority controverted Neacosia’s claim for Workers’ Compensation benefits, contending that he had been involved in an accident while driving his personal automobile on a public highway after leaving work and was not engaged in any work related activity at the time he was injured.

A Workers’ Compensation Administrative Law Judge decided that under the facts giving rise to Neacosia’s claim, which were stipulated, Neacosia's travel had a dual purpose that served to extend the scope of his employment. The Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed the ALJ’s determination.

Although the general rule is that an injury sustained by an employee during travel to and from the place of his or her employment does not come within the ambit of the Workers’ Compensation Law, there are certain exceptions to this "going and coming" rule. One such exception arises when the employee is engaged in a "special errand" for the employer.

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.

For more information concerning disability retirement, workers’ compensation, disability leaves and related matters, click on http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html .