A detective sergeant [Detective Sergeant], while on "standby-status", was en route to the precinct using his personal vehicle to travel to the precinct to, as required, secure a police vehicle to use to travel to a crime scene. Stopped at a traffic light, Detective Sergeant's vehicle was struck from behind by another vehicle, resulting in Detective Sergeant sustaining injuries.
Detective Sergeant's claim for workers' compensation benefits was controverted by his self-insured employer and its third-party administrator [Employer]. Following a hearing, a Workers' Compensation Law Judge [WCLJ] found that the accident arose out of and in the course of Detective Sergeant's employment. Employer appealed and the Workers' Compensation Board [Board] reversed the decision of the WCLJ and disallowed the claim, finding that Detective Sergeant "was not within the scope of his employment while traveling to work and that the special errand exception did not apply."
Detective Sergeant appealed and the Appellate Division, citing Workers' Compensation Law §10 and earlier court decisions, reversed the Board's ruling, explaining "An injury sustained by an employee is compensable under the Workers' Compensation Law if it "aris[es] out of and in the course of the employment". Further, said the court, "[g]iven the remedial nature of the Workers' Compensation Law, [this court has] consistently construed this requirement liberally in order to effectuate the economic and humanitarian objectives of the act", citing Matter of Lemon v New York City Tr. Auth., 72 NY2d 324.
Conceding that typically 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", the Appellant Division ruled, as relevant here, "[t]he 'special errand' exception [rule] considers an employee to be acting within the scope of employment where, at the employer's direction, the employee undertakes a work-related errand and thereby 'has altered the usual geographical or temporal scheme of travel, thereby altering the risks to which the employee is usually exposed during normal travel''.
At the Workers' Compensation hearing, there was testimony from the Employer's witness that Detective Sergeant's shift and overtime pay did not begin until Detective Sergeant, then on "stand-by" status, "arrived at the police station and checked out a police vehicle." Such fact, said the court, even if true, is not dispositive of whether the special errand exception applies. Irrespective of when Detective Sergeant's overtime pay began, the court held that as the record reflects that Detective Sergeant was contacted at 4:15 a.m., at which time Detective Sergeant was engaged in a special errand, as he was then required to report to work early in order to pick up a police vehicle so that he could proceed directly to the crime scene in that vehicle.
Although Detective Sergeant testified that he traveled to the police station along his usual geographical route, the Appellate Division noted that "the work-related activity that Detective Sergeant was encouraged/required by his employer to do and performed for the employer's benefit upon being called in early while on standby" required Detective Sergeant to "alter[ ] the usual . . . temporal scheme of travel, thereby altering the risks to which [Detective Sergeant was] usually exposed during normal travel."
Although the Board identified the correct standard articulated by the Court of Appeals, the Appellate Division concluded that the Board had misapplied "the special errand exception by overlooking the altered temporal scheme of [Detective Sergeant's] travel and significance of the work-related activity performed by claimant for the Employer's benefit upon being contacted by the Employer while on standby."
The Appellate Division reversed the Board's decision and remitted the matter to the Board "for further proceedings not inconsistent with this Court's decision."
Click HERE to access the Appellate Division's decision posted on the Internet.