Firefighter’s Injury Claim Not Barred By ‘Going And Coming’ Rule

Thaddus Roberts, a firefighter for Montgomery County, Maryland, was working in a light-duty position with the Fire Department, due to problems associated with a work-related back injury. Roberts was assigned to Fire Department Headquarters, located in Rockville, as opposed to his regular duty station, which was Fire Station 19. While on light duty, Roberts worked four ten-hour shifts per week, starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m. Roberts, as with other firefighters including those on light duty, were encouraged by the Fire Department to engage in two hours of physical training per shift, was paid during those two hours, and could physically train at any location of his choice.

While Roberts was on light duty, approximately once per month he would stop by Fire Station 19 to pick up his work mail left for him at that location. The mail included things such as interoffice memos and letters from the County’s Department of Human Resources, and was a practice observed by firefighters on light duty, about which Roberts’ supervisors were aware. One day, Roberts arrived at Friendly High School around 7 a.m. and trained until 8:30 a.m., at which time he left and traveled to gather the mail at Fire Station 19. En route, Roberts was involved in a vehicular accident and was injured.

The County denied Roberts’ workers’ compensation claim on the grounds that the claim was barred by what is known as the “going and coming” rule. Under the Rule, which has nationwide application, employees are not entitled to compensation for injuries suffered during their commutes to work.

The Court of Appeals of Maryland found that the “going and coming” rule did not apply to Roberts’ accident. The Court started with the proposition that the “going and coming” rule “provides that injuries sustained by employees commuting to and from a fixed site of employment are generally not considered to arise out of and in the course of employment and are, therefore, not compensable under the workers’ compensation laws. The rule is premised on the idea that compensation in such situations is not warranted, because getting to work is considered to be an employee’s own responsibility and ordinarily does not involve advancing the employer’s interests.

“The County argues that Fire Station 19 was not a work-related site to which Roberts was traveling. However, the mail he was picking up was that left for him at the site and the practice of gathering the mail was one about which his supervisors were aware. As a result, the County acquiesced in Roberts’ act of gathering the mail at Fire Station 19. Roberts, thus, was en route from a work-related activity to a site where he was to engage in a work-related act, to which the employer acquiesced. His travel, therefore, was incidental to his employment. Travel incidental to employment cannot be excluded from coverage by application of the ‘going and coming’ rule. As a result, the injury Roberts sustained is covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act, because but for his travel between work-related sites he would not have been injured.”

Roberts v. Montgomery County, 84 A.3d 87 (Md. App. 2014).