May 01, 2019

Determining eligibility for workers' compensation benefits when an employee is injured while "off duty"


A New York City Transit Authority [Authority] employee [Claimant] was assigned to work the 12:00 a.m. - 8:00 a.m. shift. Claimant "clocked out" ten minutes early "having completed his shift" and took an Authority train to return home.

As Claimant left the train, he was assaulted by another passenger, suffering multiple injuries and applied for workers' compensation benefits. The Workers' Compensation Law Judge denied Claimant's application for benefits, ruling that Claimant's injuries "did not arise out of and in the course of his employment." Upon review, the Workers' Compensation Board affirmed the Law Judge's ruling and Claimant appealed the Board's decision.

The Appellate Division affirmed that Board's determination, explaining that an injury is only compensable under the Workers' Compensation Law "if it arose out of and in the course of a worker's employment and, in general, injuries sustained in the course of travel to and from the place of employment do not come within the statute."*

Further, opined the Appellate Division, "[a]lthough there are recognized exceptions to this 'going and coming' rule, none applies here and we find that substantial evidence supports the Board's determination that Claimant's injuries sustained while traveling home from work are not compensable" as at the time of the assault, Claimant was not at his assigned train station, and "having clocked out of work," he was not on duty or performing any of the duties of his employment, nor was Claimant on an errand for the employer and there was no evidence that Claimant was required to use the trains to commute to work or that the employer benefited from the route that he used to travel home.

One such exception alluded to in the decision is demonstrate in Neacosia v New York Power Authority, [NYPA] 85 NY2d 47. 

In Neacosia, the Court of Appeals decided that Neacosia, a NYPA security officer, who was injured in a car accident 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.

NYPA "provided its security officers with uniforms and required that they keep the uniforms clean and presentable." To assist in this, NYPA had made arrangements with a number of cleaning establishments in the area to clean the uniforms and bill the agency for their services.**

After completing his shift Neacosia stopped to deliver his uniforms to one of the cleaners recommended by the Authority on his way home. After leaving his uniform at the cleaner's, Neacosia headed home along his usual route and was  involved in an automobile accident, sustaining severe injuries.

Claiming that his injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment, Neacosia filed for workers' compensation benefits. NYPA controverted the claim but ultimately  the Court of Appeals affirmed the Workers’ Compensation Board's determination that Neacosia suffered an injury that arose “out of and in the course of [his] employment" because the security officer used one of the facilities with which NYPA had made arrangements to do the cleaning and bill NYPA for the cleaning services it provided to the security officer.

* The Appellate Division cited Lemon v New York City Tr. Auth., 72 NY2d 324, in which the Court of Appeals ruled that "Injuries incurred while commuting to work are generally not covered because 'the risks inherent in traveling to and from work relate to the employment only in the most marginal sense.'"

** In the alternative, security personnel could arrange for the uniform's cleaning to be done by a cleaner not on NYPA's list of cleaners and submit his or her bill for the cost of the cleaning to NYPA for reimbursement. However, a security officer electing to avail himself or herself of this alternative option may not come within the ambit of the rationale applied by the Court of Appeals in Neacosia.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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