One of the great conundrums of workers comp is determining when and where coverage begins. For most of us, the commute to work is not covered; we are “in the course and scope” of employment only when we arrive at the workplace. (There are exceptions that we will address in another posting.) For police and firemen, coverage generally begins when they leave their “abode” for work. Today we examine an injury that occurred literally at the curb.
Peter Balloli worked as a police officer for the city of New Haven. Early one morning in October 2012 his son asked him to move his vehicle from the driveway so that the son could access a family car. Balloli parked his car at the curb and went back inside the house to finish preparing for work. When departing for his shift, he walked to his car and promptly dropped the keys, which fell under the vehicle. When he bent down and reached under the chassis to recover the keys, he injured his lower back.
Balloli filed a workers comp claim, which was denied by a commissioner due to the fact that Balloli had not departed from his “place of abode.” The case wended its way to the CT Supreme Court, where a majority of the justices determined that Balliol was entitled to benefits. They noted that CT law defines “abode” as encompassing a residential building as well as driveways and walkways. Given that the vehicle in this case was parked at the curb, on a public street, Balliol was “in the course and scope” of employment when the keys slipped out of his hand.
Three justices dissented: they argued that the concept of garages and driveways should logically be extended to include a vehicle parked right in front of the house on the street.
In the world of workers comp, compensation can be a matter of inches: if Balloli injured his back in the driveway, he would be on his own. But because his injury happened on the street, all his medical bills and lost wages are covered. For public safety employees, compensation literally begins at the curb.
Senior Workers Compensation Consultant