Injury Suffered While On Union Release Compensable Under Workers’ Comp

Bradley Scott, an Elyria, Ohio police officer, was also an officer in the Elyria Police Patrolman’s Association. Scott’s union duties included organizing, setting up for, and running an annual steak fry. While setting up for the steak fry in 2014, a storm approached. Scott and an event volunteer, Detective Lisa Dietsche, left the site of the steak fry. Their intention was to pick up some needed supplies for the steak fry, drop Scott’s motorcycle at his residence, and get something to eat. Scott and Dietsche decided to drop off Scott’s motorcycle first and then ride together in Dietsche’s vehicle while completing their errands. On the way to Scott’s residence, he was struck and killed by another motorist.

Under the “union leave” provision of the collective bargaining agreement between the Elyria Patrolmen’s Association and the City, the Association was allotted 20 days per year in which selected members of the Union could take paid leave to perform Union functions. This provision allowed members to be paid their regular salary while performing Union functions, without using their personal vacation time. At the time of his death, Scott was on supervisor-approved Union leave and was receiving his regular salary.

Scott’s widow filed a death benefits claim with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. When the City denied the claim, litigation ensued, and the matter wound up before the Ohio Court of Appeals.

The Court ruled that Scott’s accident was compensable under workers’ compensation laws. The main question for the Court was whether the accident occurred “in the course of, and arising out of, the injured employee’s employment.” The Court noted that the phrase set up a two-part test – whether the injury was suffered in “the course of” employment, and whether it “arose out” of employment.

As to the first of the tests, the Court ruled that “Scott was injured while performing duties as an officer of the Union. His activities focused on organizing, setting up for, and running the Union-sponsored steak fry at a local civic pavilion. The steak fry was regularly attended by Union members, their families, and other members of the community. At the time of the accident, Scott was on paid Union leave, pursuant to the contract between the Union and the City.

“The contract expressly provided for Union delegates to perform Union work while being paid by the City. Scott’s supervisor approved his request for eight hours of Union leave, and Scott received his regular pay on that day. Although the accident did not occur at Scott’s workplace, Scott traveled to fulfill his responsibilities for the steak fry. Thus, the travel was not exclusively personal in nature. It was directly related to Scott’s Union responsibilities.

“Fulfilling the obligations of being a Union officer and preparing for a Union function were consistent with the contract for hire and logically related to Scott’s employment. The contract between the Union and the City of Elyria governed Scott’s employment and his ability to function in a Union capacity on City time. The City and the Union clearly contemplated employees performing Union functions while being paid by the City. Furthermore, the parties agreed upon a system by which those functions would be accomplished.”

The Court also found that the accident arose out of Scott’s employment: “Scott left the event site and the City did not control the location of the accident. However, Scott intended to pick up supplies and return to the site of the steak fry at the time of the accident. The duties associated with running the event gave rise to the departure from the event location. Furthermore, the event itself benefitted the employer. It allowed officers to socialize with other officers and their families and boosted morale among employees.

“The context surrounding the accident supports the conclusion that Scott’s accident arose out of his employment. Although the accident occurred while en route to Scott’s residence, the overall purpose of the errand was focused on facilitating the steak fry. Because he was setting up the event at a civic club pavilion, purchasing a meal from a local restaurant was a convenient option which would have allowed Scott to continue his primary duties of preparing for the steak fry. Thus, the injury arose out of Scott’s employment because there is a causal connection between the injury and his employment.”

A dissenting judge argued that “although the Union’s contract with the City allowed Mr. Scott to use Union leave instead of his personal vacation time for his absence from duty, the fact that he had to use any form of leave strongly suggests that the steak fry was not a required duty in the employer’s service and had no more than an incidental benefit to the City.”

City of Elyria v. Scott, 2015 WL 6848756 (Ohio App. 2015).