Sheriff’s Deputy Can Recover for Injuries Suffered on Commute to Work, Florida Appeals Court Holds

Generally, an individual who is injured while going to or coming from work will not be able to get compensation from his or her employer for any injuries.  However, in some circumstances, an employer may be financially responsible for the injuries of its employee.  The plaintiff in Levy County Sheriff’s Office v. Allen was a sheriff’s deputy who was injured in an automobile accident on his way to work. The deputy left for work in the early morning hours, when it was still dark outside, in his personal automobile. As he was driving, the plaintiff suddenly noticed a tractor-trailer stopped on the road and partially blocking his lane. The plaintiff was unable to avoid a collision with the tractor-trailer and hit the vehicle, causing him significant physical injuries.

When the plaintiff sought insurance benefits from his employer’s carrier, his claim was disputed. The insurer contended that the accident had occurred on personal time, while the deputy was in the process of traveling to work. This, argued the insurer, was in line with Florida laws regarding “coming and going.” The general rule is that any injury suffered by an employee who is coming from or going to work is not an injury arising out of the course of employment.

However, special considerations arose in this case, concerning the duties of a law enforcement officer such as a sheriff’s deputy. The plaintiff argued that his office utilized a policy in which off-duty officers were to conduct themselves as if on-duty in the events of hazards or threats to citizens’ safety. According to the plaintiff, his first concern immediately before his collision was the safety of other motorists. The plaintiff testified that he had intended to stop, assist the driver of the tractor-trailer, and direct traffic. However, he could not accomplish those acts because he was involved in the accident.

A judge of compensation claims addressed the issue of the “coming and going” rule and analyzed whether the plaintiff was acting within the course of his employment. The judge concluded that the plaintiff was required by office standards to safeguard other drivers under the circumstances immediately preceding his accident. The judge found that the plaintiff was acting within the course of his employment because his initial objective was to safeguard other drivers. As such, the judge found that the employer’s insurer was responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. The insurer then appealed.

The District Court of Appeal for the First District of Florida considered the arguments on appeal. The appeals court noted that an employee driving his personal vehicle to work would not ordinarily be entitled to coverage. However, the plaintiff in this case was tasked with the responsibility of intervening in such circumstances.

Additionally, the appellate court held that the “coming or going” rule did not preclude compensability, since the plaintiff was “thrust” into a situation requiring the exercise of his employment responsibilities. At that point, the court concluded that the plaintiff was essentially on duty, and any injuries would be compensable. The appeals court held that the plaintiff was acting within the course of his employment when he was injured in the accident and affirmed the judge of compensation claims.

If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident, but the insurance company refuses responsibility, you may have a claim for legal damages. The Southwest Florida injury attorneys at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano are skilled in dealing with insurance companies to get you compensation for your medical costs and lost wages. To speak with one of our attorneys to discuss your injuries, contact us online or call toll-free at (800) 238-7442.

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