Extended Shift for Correctional Officer not Extraordinary in Denial of Death Benefits
In the recent case of Lantz v. Workers Compensation Appeal Board (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 298, the Fifth District Court of Appeals confronted a going and coming rule case arising from the death of a correctional officer.
Lieutenant Seth Patrick Lantz, a 33 year old correctional officer at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California was killed in an automobile accident in October of 2010. Since Lantz lived in the Bakersfield area, he commuted to the prison in his own vehicle on Interstate 5 (I-5).
Lantz was a Lieutenant who supervised 40 to 50 staff members and rarely worked overtime.
On Friday, October 1, 2010, Lantz worked his regularly assigned shift but was held over to serve as a watch commander for the next shift which ran for an additional eight (8) hours.
It was following this second eight (8) hour shift that he proceeded home in his own vehicle with only a protective vest in his vehicle. The rules for correctional guards did not require the wearing of uniforms while off duty nor did it require payment for commuting time.
A trial was held before a workers compensation administrative law judge in Bakersfield, California who found in favor of the widow of Lieutenant Lantz. The first finding stated that Lantz sustained an injury arising out of and in the course of his employment resulting in his death. After a petition for reconsideration was filed, the Workers Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) overturned the finding of the administrative law judge that the holdover shift was an extraordinary event.
Upon appeal to the Fifth District Court of Appeals, the finding that Lieutenant Lantz’ holdover shift was not extraordinary was upheld. The court found that the rule to be applied was that “. . . an injury suffered during a local commute and route to a fixed place of business at fixed hours in the absence of special or extraordinary circumstances is not within the course of employment.” Noting that the broad phrase “special or extraordinary circumstances” encompasses the numerous exceptions to the rule such as a special mission exception, a special risk exception and the required vehicle exception, the court analyzed each in the context of this case finding no extraordinary situation which would have warranted a finding that Lieutenant Lantz’ death occurred in the course of employment. In this regard, the additional eight (8) hour shift postponed the start of Lantz’ drive home but did not affect the distance or the route of his commute home. The additional shift only changed when Lantz drove home and it did not require an extra trip. Neither did the extra shift change the nature of Lantz’ duties.
The case name is Lantz v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board (2014). It can be found at 226 Cal.App.4th 298.