January 16, 2007

Having It Both Ways: Coming and Going in Utah

Police Officer Michelle Ross was injured in a car crash outside Salt Lake County while driving with her infant son. She was off-duty, operating a marked police vehicle. (I've never seen a police cruiser with an infant carseat.) She crossed the center line of State Road 36 and struck a tractor-trailor, injuring two people. Is she covered by workers comp? Is the city liable for her driving mistake?

You would expect a consistent answer: if Ross was "in the course and scope" of employment, she would collect workers comp and the city would be liable for her negligent driving. If she was truly off duty - "coming and going" - she would not be eligible for comp and the city would be off the hook for the injuries she caused.

Well, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." No small minds in Utah! Because Officer Ross was part of a "take-home car" program designed to increase the visibility of the police and to speed response time, she was, in effect, on duty at all times, even when driving with her child. So the court ruled that she is entitled to workers comp for her injuries.

If Ross was on duty, then the city is liable for her actions, right? It turns out that prior to the awarding of comp, the state Supreme Court ruled exactly the other way. They overturned a judgment against the city on behalf of the injured parties, Chad and Stacy Ahlstrom. The court ruled that the city cannot be held liable for an employee who is simply "coming and going" from work.

Ross was and was not in the course and scope of employment. The city was liable (for comp) and not liable (for Ross's negligence). The city has it both ways, at the expense, it appears, of the Ahlstroms. Their heads must be spinning, like vehicles in this week's ice storm on the slippery roads of Utah.

| 1 Comment

1 Comment

The City of Scottsdale, AZ, passed legislation a decade ago that places officers in course and scope (C&S) when commuting to and from work. All it takes generally is one egregious injury to an officer for a city council to "get up in arms" and pass legislation, so it can vary greatly in various locales. It opens up a whole can of insurance worms, of course, due to liability issues when placing commuting officers in C&S, not to mention the comp aspect.


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This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on January 16, 2007 2:13 PM.

When Illegal Workers are Injured: Second Class Benefits in a First Class System was the previous entry in this blog.

Independent contractors, Iraq, and insurance: more light on the matter is the next entry in this blog.

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