Florida Appeals Court Affirms Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Sheriff’s Deputy Injured in a Semi-Truck Crash While Commuting: Levy County Sheriff’s Office v. Allen

Florida’s First District Court of Appeal has affirmed an order granting workers’ compensation benefits to a sheriff’s deputy who was hurt on his way to work. In Levy County Sheriff’s Office v. Allen, a deputy employed by the Levy County Sheriff’s Office for more than 41 years was traveling to work in his personal vehicle when he came upon a stalled semi-truck that was partially blocking one lane of a highway during the early morning hours. Due to the purported unsafe condition, the deputy stated he decided to stop and direct traffic around the big rig despite that he was assigned to provide security services at a local courthouse. The man testified that he also intended to call for additional law enforcement officers to assist him in removing the large vehicle from the highway. Unfortunately, the deputy was unable to stop his vehicle before striking the semi-truck. As a result of the unfortunate collision, the deputy apparently sustained significant personal injuries. At the time of the accident, the deputy was wearing his uniform and carrying both his assigned badge and weapon on his person.

Following the injury accident, the Levy County Sheriff’s Office workers’ compensation insurance carrier refused to pay any benefits to the deputy related to his accident injuries. According to the employer-insurer, the man’s harm did not result from his job duties because he was hurt while commuting to work. In addition, the carrier claimed the man’s harm did not arise out of his employment because his primary work assignment was to provide courthouse security services.

At an evidentiary hearing, both the deputy and several co-workers offered testimony stating Levy County Sheriff’s Office policy requires all deputies to address any obvious safety hazards whether or not they are currently on duty. According to a Judge of Compensation Claims, the deputy’s security assignment did not relieve him of his duty to resolve dangerous conditions such as that posed by the tractor-trailer. Also, the judge found that the man’s injury occurred while he was performing one of his primary job duties. Finally, the judge held that the deputy was “acting within the course of his employment” under Section 440.091(1) of the Florida Statutes. Because of this, the judge ordered that the man’s injury accident was compensable. The employer-insurer then appealed the judge’s decision to Florida’s First District Court of Appeal.

On appeal, the insurer argued that Section 440.092(2) of the Florida Statutes precluded any recovery the deputy may have been entitled to under Section 440.091(1). According to the insurer, no exceptions enumerated in the statute applied to the deputy’s situation. The appeals court disagreed, however, and held that the two sections of the law should be harmonized. The court stated although the deputy was traveling to work when his accident occurred, he was still engaged in his official duties under Section 440.091(1).

The court also dismissed the insurer’s claim that a 2001 amendment to Section 440.092(2) that provides for workers’ compensation coverage for law enforcement officers traveling to or from work “in an official law enforcement vehicle” precluded the deputy’s ability to recover for his injuries. The court held the language of the statute merely added two exceptions to the general workers’ compensation laws, rather than altering the provisions of Section 440.091(1). Since the deputy was performing his job duties when he was injured, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal affirmed the order of the Judge of Compensation Claims.

The damages an employee who is injured at work may be eligible to collect in Florida will vary based on the facts of each case. If you were harmed in a workplace accident, you should discuss your right to recover for your harm with an experienced Miami workers’ compensation lawyer. To schedule a free confidential consultation with a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney, contact Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. through our website or give us a call at (305) 448-8585.

Additional Resources:

Levy County Sheriff’s Office v. Allen, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2014

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