Injuries Suffered On Way Home Can Be Compensable

Sharon Pettit was a firefighter and emergency medical technician for the Scipio, New York Volunteer Fire District. In October 2009, the District’s EMTs were informed at a weekly meeting that the swine flu vaccine was going to be provided for them at a clinic the following week. Pettit was refused the vaccine at that clinic, but attended a different clinic in December 2009 to receive her vaccination.

On her way home from that clinic, Pettit was involved in a one-car accident that resulted in multiple injuries, including a traumatic brain injury. Pettit filed a workers’ compensation claim for her injuries. When New York’s Workers’ Compensation Board determined that Pettit’s injuries were incurred while she was engaged in an activity covered by the law and awarded her benefits, the District appealed.

An appeals court upheld the award of benefits to Pettit. The Court ruled that “whether a given activity of a volunteer fire fighter falls within the line of duty is a question of statutory construction particularly within the Board’s expertise. Here, the Board found that Pettit’s injuries were compensable pursuant to a workers’ compensation statute which covers participation in a ‘supervised physical fitness class, group session or program for the purpose of promoting or maintaining the performance of their duties as firefighters, as well as necessary travel to and necessary travel from such activity.’

“The record demonstrates that the District, at the very least, strongly encouraged EMTs to receive the swine flu vaccination and made arrangements for them to receive the vaccine at no cost. In fact, Pettit testified that, but for the directive from the District, she had no intention of otherwise receiving the vaccine. Under these circumstances, we find that the Board could reasonably conclude that Pettit’s injuries were sustained pursuant to her participation in a program to maintain the performance of her duties.”

Pettit v. Scipio Volunteer Fire Dist., 945 N.Y.S.2d 441 (A.D. 2012).