Officer Wins Workers’ Comp Claim For Off-Duty Shooting

Kelly Lane is a police officer with the City of Tucson, Arizona. One evening, while off duty, Lane was riding his mountain bike in rural Pinal County with two friends. After the ride, they were standing near their two vehicles, which were parked about four or five hundred feet from the main road. Lane heard gunshots in the distance about a mile away, an event Lane considered unusual because it was nighttime. At Lane’s suggestion, he and his friends decided to pack up and leave the area.

As they did so, a car approached from the same direction as the shots and then abruptly stopped. Its lights illuminated the area, and Lane heard a voice say, “We got her five times.” The occupants of the car then began firing bullets in their direction, and Lane dove for cover behind the engine compartment of his vehicle.

Lane began to make a plan of action to apprehend the suspects, but he soon realized that one of his friends was not protected, and his “priorities changed from trying to capture these guys and have them identified to going back and making things safe for his friend and himself.” Lane tried yelling out to his friend, but his friend “looked to be kind of frozen in space, he wasn’t reacting.” Lane then ran over to his friend and was about to place his hand on his friend’s right shoulder in order to get him behind the vehicle when Lane was shot in the back. Lane later testified that he left his position of safety behind his vehicle in part based on his police training and in part because “he would do that for a friend, even if he wasn’t a cop.”

Lane suffered serious injuries, and was in the intensive care unit for 30 days. Though Lane’s captain concluded that Lane had been “acting as a law enforcement officer at the time of the shooting,” the City denied Lane’s workers’ compensation claim.

The Arizona Court of Appeals upheld Lane’s claim. The Court found that the law was “well established” that “Lane suffered both an increased risk and, arguably, a peculiar risk arising out of his employment under the specific circumstances of the case. Although Lane was off duty, the relevant code of conduct for his employment required him to act in an official capacity if he observed an incident requiring police action to safeguard life, property, or to prevent the escape of a felon or violent criminal. Because of that duty, Lane was exposed to an increased risk of being injured by gunfire if a crime or other threat to life occurred in his presence than would be faced by a similarly situated non-officer.

“Lane’s laudable statement that wholly apart from his duty as an officer, he would have been motivated to help his friends in any event does not extinguish Lane’s employment-related duty to help. There is no evidence that Lane was motivated exclusively by a desire to help his friends. Few other fields of employment require the employee, during non working hours to risk his or her own safety to protect others. Lane’s employment as a police officer caused him to face both an increased and directly work-related injury from gunfire. We therefore hold that Lane’s injury arose out of his employment.”

Lane v. Industrial Commission of Arizona, 178 P.3d 516 (Ariz.App. 2008).

This article appears in the July 2008 issue