An appellate court in Colorado has ruled that an injured search-and-rescue volunteer is eligible for workers’ comp benefits after he was injured in a car crash while going to meet a fire chief.
According to news reports, Michael Smith, the president and incident commander of Teller County (Colorado) Search and Rescue, was injured when he was involved in a head-on collision while traveling to meet with the fire chief in May 2013.
Typically, volunteers for search-and-rescue for Teller Co. are not eligible for compensation and, on top of that, they are on call 24/7.
According to court documents, Smith notified dispatch about leaving for a fire chiefs meeting in Divide before being involved in the accident. Afterwards, Smith filed worker’s comp paperwork under the belief that his position defined him as an “employee” of the state according to Colorado law. Nevertheless, Teller Co. denied Smith’s claim because they discovered that his presence at the meeting was not mandatory.
Regardless of Teller Co. law, an administrative law judge determined that Smith’s injury occurred while he “was actively engaged in duties that would constitute activities that are ‘proper for the performance’ of duties with the search-and-rescue organization.” Furthermore, the ruling stated that since Smith’s job as president makes him responsible for the coordination and attendance of meetings across the state, technically his presence was needed at the meeting.
The county has since appealed the decision, citing that Smith wasn’t actively performing a duty when he was injured, therefore Colorado’s “coming and going” invalidates the claim. The Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the appellate court’s ruling, arguing that Colorado’s worker’s comp law includes “volunteer rescue teams or groups, volunteer disaster teams, volunteer ambulance teams or groups and volunteer search teams.”
Furthermore, the appellate court pronounced Colorado’s coming-and-going rule was an improper ruling in this case.
Being injured on the job is a pain (no pun intended). If you’ve been hurt in the course of your job and believe you have wrongfully denied compensation, discuss your case with workers’ comp attorney R. Mack Babcock and associates at The Babcock Law Firm pronto.