Price Benowitz LLP Workers' Compensation Lawyer John Yannone Comments On Recent Decision By Oregon Court Of Appeals

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John Yannone on the decision reached by the Court of Appeals, and the differences in regulation between States

The Oregon Court of Appeals has ruled (case No. A144661) that a former Police lieutenant is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits after the City of Eugene had initially denied her. According to the Register Guard, Carolyn McDermed was struck by a car in April 2008 while she crossed the street to get some coffee during a break. But the court ruled that even though she was on a coffee break, she was still technically on duty when the accident happened, and she should be entitled to benefits as a result.

“It’s an interesting case because it took a lot of decisions to get to the final result,” Price Benowitz LLP personal injury lawyer John Yannone says. “There are jurisdictions that are more claimants friendly, in terms of the theory of their compensation laws; and there are some that are more conservative. It can vary state-to-state in terms of jurisdiction, and particularly if it gets to appeals courts as opposed to the administrative level.”

The ruling from the Appeals Court is the fourth delivered on this matter. While McDermed lost her initial case against the City, she had later appealed to a state administrative law judge, who decided in her favor. An appeal by the City to the Workers’ Compensation Board would ultimately prove unsuccessful, making this latest decision the final verdict.

The issue in question was whether or not McDermed was considered to be on duty at the time of the accident, even though she was technically on a coffee break. According to that Register Guard article, the court found that McDermed would sometimes be required to fulfill her duties even though she was technically on break. As a result, they decided that her break was not a complete departure from the working environment.

“It’s very factually intensive, case-to-case,” says Yannone. “The law can vary from state-to-state. But many of them are based off of one another. They’ve all spawned from a general body of law, and there may be some individual nuances, but for the most part they all talk about having a work-related injury, and you have to be working while you suffer the injury. So if you’re doing something non-work related, they will try to come up with the defense that it isn’t technically work-related."

A dissenting opinion delivered by Workers’ Compensation Board member Vera Langer at the time of the decision in that court encapsulated the City’s argument. According to McDermed herself, most of her work was spent at a desk in an office, and rarely required her to leave the building. In fact, McDermed even conceded that this particular trip was solely to get coffee, and that there was no work purpose associated with it.

Despite this information, the Appeals Court upheld the prior decisions that because the possibility of McDermed having to perform work duties did exist, she was technically on duty during the break. Details on the size of the settlement were not made available by the court.

“It’s not just as easy as having a client come and say ‘I was hurt on the job,’” Yannone says. “They will come up with a defense, and then it’s a matter of factual proof.”

Price Benowitz LLP is a mid-sized, Washington D.C. based law firm with offices in Maryland and Virginia. Please visit our Virginia personal injury lawyer site for more information on that office.

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