The Short Version: Troopers are permitted to get workers’ compensation benefits while driving to and from employment in their personal vehicle if otherwise entitled to an agency vehicle. Call us if you want more details. Read on for more specifics.
On October 2, 2015, Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals decided State of Maryland v. Okafor, which deals with workers’ compensation coverage for a trooper who was driving to work in his personal vehicle. The Court of Special Appeals determined that TFC Okafor was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits arising from injuries he sustained in a motor vehicle accident. The Court of Special Appeals based its decision on an exception to the “going and coming rule.”
Going & Coming Rule Generally
Under the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act, a workers’ compensation claim is only compensable for an accidental injury that arises out of and in the course of employment. An injury arises out of a claimant’s employment when it “results in some obligation, condition, or incident of employment,” meaning that there is a causal connection between the employment and the injury.[i] An injury occurs in the course of employment depending upon the “time, place, and circumstances of the accident in relation to the employment.”[ii] An injury, however, that is sustained when a claimant is commuting to and from work is not considered to have arose out of or in the course of employment. This is the “going and coming rule.”
A trooper in a patrol vehicle who is commuting to an assignment would not be subject to the going and coming rule. Also, the Court of Appeals has determined, however, that “injuries sustained by an off duty police officer driving an assigned patrol car on personal errand arise out of and in the course of employment when the primary purpose of the patrol car is to benefit the employer police department.”[iii]
Exceptions to the Going & Coming Rule
There have been several exceptions to the going and coming rule. State v. Okra dealt with two specific exceptions – free transportation and dual purpose doctrine.
The free transportation exception to the going and coming rule states that “where the workman is employed to work at a certain place, and as a part of his contract of employment there is an agreement that his employer shall furnish him free transportation to and from his work the period of service continues during the time of transportation, and if an injury occurs during the course of transportation it is held to have arisen out of and in the course of employment.”[iv] Thus, troopers who are in their agency issued vehicle are covered for injuries that occur during the commute to and from assignments, assuming that the claim is otherwise compensable.
The dual purpose doctrine deals with trips that serve both business and personal missions, and the mission for the employer is the major factor in the trip.[v] Thus, “an employee’s injuries arise out of and in the course of his employment when they are sustained while he is on a trip that has a work and personal purpose, so long as the work purpose is primary and the personal purpose is incidental.”[vi]
Court of Special Appeals Ruling
In Okafor, TFC Okafor’s agency assigned vehicle was being repaired, and no spare vehicles were available at the Barrack for his use. Therefore, he used his personal vehicle to drive to his assignment. TFC Okafor was in uniform during his commute to his assignment. While en route to the Barrack, TFC Okafor was involved in a motor vehicle accident that caused injury.
The Court of Special Appeals ruled that TFC Okafor was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits despite being in his personal vehicle. The Court of Special Appeals explained that the free transportation exception applied, while the dual purpose doctrine did not. With respect to the dual purpose doctrine, the Court of Special Appeals determined that this exception did not apply.[vii] Because the primary purpose of TFC Okafor’s trip was personal – driving from his home to work – and not for business, this exception would not make TFC Okafor’s trip compensable.
With respect to the free transportation exception, the Court of Special Appeals pointed out that the MSP followed a policy of assigned patrol vehicles to troopers for them to use at work and to drive to and from work. Additionally, the MSP pays for the patrol vehicles and the gas necessary to drive them. Therefore, the Court of Special Appeals determined that “when an employer has obligated itself to prove an employee free transportation to and from work the employee’s day starts when his commute to work starts (and end when his commute ends).”[viii] Thus, because the MSP has an agreement that includes free transportation to and from work, TFC Okafor’s work day began when his commute to work began.[ix]
Based on this case, the Court of Special Appeals has determined that an injury sustained by a trooper in a private car while driving to or from their home to work arises out of and in the course of the trooper’s employment with the MSP. While there are still many situations that may arise where this general ruling would not apply[x], the Court of Special Appeals has determined that troopers should be covered by workers’ compensation when driving to and from home and work, regardless of what vehicle they are driving.
[i] Livering v. Richardson’s Restaurant, 374 Md. 566, 574 (2003).
[ii] Id. at 577.
[iii] State v. Okafar at p. 7-8, citing Montgomery County v. Wade, 345 Md. 1, 14 (1997).
[iv] Id. at p. 9, citing Harrison v. Central Construction Co., 135 Md. 170, 177-78 (1919).
[v] Id. at 17.
[vii] Id. at 20.
[viii] Id. at 21
[x] For example, this does not answer the question as to whether a trooper who has his/her driving privileges suspended by the MSP would be covered under the free transportation exception.