Corrections Officer Not Entitled To Workers’ Compensation Benefits For Injury Suffered At Scene Of Off-Site Accident

Ryan Pettigrew is a correctional officer for the State of California. On April 24, 2005, Pettigrew was driving to work on Interstate 80 when he came upon and stopped to help at the scene of a multi-vehicle accident. While helping an injured person, Pettigrew was near a parked truck, which was hit by an oncoming car. The impact drove the truck into Pettigrew and he was injured.

Pettigrew filed a request for workers’ compensation benefits for the injuries associated with the accident. When his requests were denied, he appealed to the California Court of Appeals.

The Court affirmed the denial of Pettigrew’s workers’ compensation benefits. The Court began with the holding that an employer is liable for an injury sustained by an employee only when the injury arises out of and is in the course of employment. The Court observed that “as a general matter, an employee going to or coming from his place of employment is not rendering any service to the employer, and therefore injuries occurring during the commute do not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.”

Pettigrew argued that the “going and coming” rule was inapplicable because of a series of prior decisions involving injuries suffered by police officers while assisting at accident scenes during their commutes. The Court distinguished the prior cases, holding that “in contrast, Pettigrew’s employer did not require him to wear his uniform while commuting. Rather, the employer merely tolerated employees wearing their uniform off premises as long as they hid it under a cover jacket. There is no evidence the DOC expected Pettigrew to render assistance at an accident scene outside of prison premises. To the contrary, it is clear he had no authority to act as a correctional officer (or peace officer) outside the prison. We note that the workers’ compensation law specifically grants certain compensation and benefits rights to off-duty police officers, but its definition of such officers excludes correctional officers.”

Pettigrew v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, 48 Cal.Rptr.3d 922 (Cal.App. 2006).

This article appears in the December 2006 issue