A California man who was originally awarded workers’ compensation benefits for an injury he sustained during his drive to work has since had the ruling overturned by the Court of Appeals of California.
Robert Decourcey Jr. worked as a corrections officer for the California Department of Corrections. The inmates he oversaw could not be left alone, so at least one officer needed to be stationed at the facility 24 hours a day. To compensate for possible conflicts or sick employees, the officers were allowed to freely switch shifts. This process helped the California Department of Corrections save on overtime costs, and employees were happy because they could manage their schedules as needed.
Decourcey received a call from one of his co-workers asking if he could switch shifts. The co-worker’s grandmother had fallen ill, and he needed to take her to the hospital. Decourcey agreed to take the early shift, and his co-worker would take the afternoon shift once he had helped his grandmother.
Decourcey’s shift started at 6 a.m., so he left for work before the sun rose. On his commute, his car hit a patch of black ice and he crashed over the side of a ravine. He suffered numerous injuries and applied for workers’ compensation.
Under normal circumstances, commutes to and from work are not compensable under workers’ compensation law. Usually a person needs to be ‘on the clock’ or suffer the injury on company property to be awarded a claim, but there are other exceptions.
Decourcey’s lawyers argued that their client wasn’t just commuting to work, rather, he was engaged in a special order from his employer. They argued that because Decourcey swapped shifts for a co-worker, he was aiding the state by saving overtime costs and therefore he deserved to receive different consideration.
The court agreed, and Decourcey was awarded compensation benefits. However, the Appeals Court of California saw the case differently, and overturned the original court’s decision. In their findings, the Court of Appeals said Decourcey was engaged in nothing more than an ordinary commuting accident.
Related source: Business Management Daily