District of Columbia
In Lee v. D.C. Dep't of Emp. Servs, No.21-AA-0130 (D.C. May 26, 2022), claimant was a bus operator for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”). The claimant’s first half of her split shift started at the Western Garage and she parked her car on a nearby street before beginning the shift. The first half of the split shift ended at a different station. While walking back to her car after the first half of her split shift, the claimant fell and injured her head, hand, knee, and wrist. A Department of Employment Services Administrative Law Judge denied her claim for workers’ compensation benefits, and the Compensation Review Board (“CRB”) affirmed that decision.
In order to be eligible for workers’ compensation, an injury must both arise out of and occur in the course of the employment. While these are distinct concepts, often proof of one will tend to establish the other.
The requirement that the injury arise out of employment refers to the origin of the injury. Risks causing injury to employees fall within three categories: employment-related, personal, and neutral. Injuries arising out of employment-related risks are universally compensable, injuries arising out of personal risks are universally non-compensable, and injuries arising out of neutral risks are compensable if the obligations of the employment were a but-for cause of the injury.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals found that the claimant’s injuries were not thoroughly disconnected from her employment; thus, they did not arise out of a personal risk. For the purposes of its analysis, the Court assumed that the claimant’s injuries arose out of a neutral risk. The Court found that the claimant’s injuries would not have happened but for the fact that she was required to return to the Western Garage both to retrieve her car and to begin the second half of her split-shift. Thus, her injuries were compensable. The Court noted that the risk did not become personal merely because the employee was on her break.
To determine whether injuries arose in the course of employment, courts consider whether the injuries occurred during a reasonable and foreseeable activity that is reasonably related to or incidental to the employment or resulted from a risk created by the employment. Courts consider the time, place, and circumstances under which the injury occurred. In this case, it was not only foreseeable that the claimant would regularly need to walk back to her car, it was expected. Thus, the claimant’s walk back to her car was reasonably incidental to her employment and she was in a place where she would reasonably be expected to be.
Additionally, the Court explained that the CRB erroneously relied on the “going and coming” rule when it ruled that the employee’s injuries did not arise out of and in the course of their employment. There is a well-established exception to the “going and coming” rule that applies when an employee is paid for their travel time. Under this exception, when an employee is paid for their travel time, the hazards of the journey may properly be regarded as hazards of employment.
In this case, the claimant was paid twenty-five minutes of travel time to compensate her for her return walk to the origin point of her shift. Thus, the paid travel time exception to the “going and coming” rule applied.
The Court held that the claimant’s injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment, reversed the CRB’s order, and remanded the matter for further proceedings.