Monday, August 15, 2016

Is Injuring Yourself When Avoiding a Collision with Your Child a Compensable Workers’ Compensation Injury?

Prince George’s County v. Melvin Proctor, 2016 Md. App. LEXIS 74 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. July 26, 2016)

An issue that often presents itself in workers’ compensation cases in Maryland and throughout the country is whether an injured employee was actually working at the time of injury, and therefore entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.  The issue of whether an injury “arose out of or in the course of employment” was presented in a recent case, Prince George’s County v. Melvin Proctor, 2016 Md. App. LEXIS 74 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. July 26, 2016), which involved an injury scenario that is all too familiar to readers with highly mobile toddlers. 

On his day off, Detective Melvin Proctor, a Prince George’s County police detective, was leaving his home when his precocious 2-year-old walked in front of him.  In order to avoid knocking the unfortunate young man off the porch, Proctor jumped out of the way, injuring his knee and ankle in the process. At the time of the incident, Det. Proctor was off, and coming to the end of a 10-day vacation.  Based on these facts alone, it seems abundantly clear that Proctor’s injury did not occur in the course of his employment.  However, Proctor relied on the significant gray area in the law to argue his entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits based on these facts, leading legal minds considering the issue to disagree on the case’s outcome. 

Proctor argued that he was on a “special errand” incident to his employment when the injury occurred.  Specifically, Proctor had dropped his police cruiser off for repairs before his vacation, and he was on his way to pick it up when the incident occurred.  Proctor argued that picking up his cruiser was a special errand related to employment because his role on the robbery suppression squad required him to work outside of normal work hours and to respond to emergency situations with his cruiser.  Proctor further asserted that his errand was a work requirement because he and his fellow officers had been told that when repairs were done, they needed to pick up their cruisers “in a timely manner” because spots on the repair lot were limited. 
Prince George’s County (the “County”) disputed that an accident injury in the course of employment had occurred, and filed issues with the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission (“WCC”).  The WCC found in the County’s favor, and the case was appealed to the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County where the Circuit Court reversed, relying on the positional risk test (see below).  Ultimately, the case was appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which entertained three different theories on whether the injuries Proctor sustained while avoiding a collision with his two-year-old could be considered employment-related and thus compensable.     

First, the Proctor Court examined whether Proctor’s injury arose out of and in the course of employment.  The Court found that it did not, since Detective Proctor had not yet embarked on the journey to retrieve his police cruiser and was not under any directive to retrieve the cruiser on the date of the injury. 

Second, the Court considered whether the “going and coming rule” applied to the facts to the case.  The so-called going and coming rule holds that the commute to and from work is not a work related activity in most cases, but this general rule is riddled with exceptions.  However, the Court did not apply any of these exceptions to Detective Proctor because he had not even embarked on his work-related journey at the time he sustained his injuries. 

Finally, the court considered the “positional risk test”, which holds that an injury may be compensable if a condition or obligation of employment actually places the employee in the position to be injured or at the location of injury.  This test is most often applied in cases involving travelling employees, such as where a travelling employee is staying in a hotel because of work and is injured when slipping in a hotel bathroom.  Mulready v. Univ. Research Corp., 360 Md. 51, 58-59, 756 A.2d 575, 579 (2000).  In those cases, the Court considers whether an injury would have occurred “but for” the conditions and obligations of employment. The Proctor Court, disagreeing with the Prince George’s County Circuit Court’s judicial review, failed to find any reasonable argument that “but for” the need to retrieve his police cruiser, Proctor would not have been at his home on his day off, stepping through the front door and avoiding knocking his 2-year-old off his porch. 

Based on its rejection of the foregoing theories, the Court of Special Appeals reversed the decision of the Prince George’s County Circuit Court and affirmed the decision of the WCC.   However, Detective Proctor has not given up yet, and has indicated his intention to appeal the matter to the highest court in Maryland, the Court of Appeals.  The attorneys at RSRM will continue to track this case and hope that Detective Proctor will be more careful leaving his home in the future.  

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