Maryland Workers’ Compensation Defense:  Court rejects special mission exception

In Garrity v. IWIF, No. 1185, September Term, 2010 (Md. App. February 9, 2012), appellant was a part-time bailiff at the District Court for Baltimore City, where he was involved in an automobile accident as he was returning to the courthouse. Appellant had already arrived at work earlier in the morning but realized the tie he was wearing, a Christmas themed tie, was inappropriate for work. Additionally, shortly after realizing his tie did not conform to his usual work attire, Appellant spilt coffee on his shirt and tie, which prompted him to go home to change. Believing it was ok to run this errand, Appellant asked the other bailiff assigned to the courtroom to cover for him. While traveling back from his house to the courthouse, Appellant was struck head-on by another vehicle. The Workers’ Compensation Commission found that Appellant’s injury arose out of and was in the course of his employment. A Petition for Review was filed and Appellant attempted to show that his claim was compensable under the special mission and dual purpose exceptions to the going and comings rule, as well as the personal comfort exception. The Circuit Court for Baltimore City reversed the Commission’s findings and Appellant filed an appeal with the Court of Special Appeal where the Circuit Court’s decision was ultimately upheld.

The special mission exception, first recognized in Maryland in Reisinger-Siehler Co. v. Perry, 165 Md. 191, (1933), is “when an employee is acting in the course of employment when traveling on a special mission or errand at the request of the employer and in furtherance of the employer’s business, even if the journey is one that is to or from the workplace.” Here, Appellant relied upon the “Policy on Appropriate Attire and Appearance,” which governs Appellant’s dress code at work. Appellant argued that the policy “mandated” that he leave work and change his shirt and tie once he spilled coffee on them. The Court of Special Appeals correctly identified that the special mission exception is raised when an employee, acting at the direction of their employer, is injured on the job. Here, Appellant was not directed by his employer to go home and change his shirt and tie, therefore the special mission exception must fail. The Court of Special Appeals went further, stating that the policy which Appellant relied upon simply provides “guidance on professional attire,” and is not a mandate requiring employees to leave work when they realize their attire is out of compliance.

While the Court of Special Appeals determined that the “Policy on Appropriate Attire and Appearance” did not provide express authority to leave work, Appellant contends that it contained implied authority. In support of this belief, Appellant argued that a liberal policy existed for bailiffs to run errands. Even if bailiffs were able to run minor errands without authorization, the Court of Special Appeals determined that this practice was never approved or acquiesced to by supervisors.

The dual purpose doctrine, as outlined in Stotskin v. Bd. of Ed. Montgomery County, 11 Md. App. 355 (1997), is applicable when a “trip involves the performance of a service for the employer which would have caused the trip to be taken by someone even if it had not coincided with the personal injury.” Relying upon this doctrine, Appellant reasoned that because he had his radio with him to monitor courtroom communications and that the dress policy stated that an employee must maintain “a professional and appropriate image . . .,” his injury should be compensable. The Court of Special Appeals determined that neither express nor implied authority to leave the courthouse without authorization was provided. Furthermore, Appellant’s decision to take his radio with him could not remedy the situation because if he was needed, there would be no way for him to comply. The Court reasoned that only if Appellant’s supervisors authorized him to leave and take his radio with him, would the dual purpose doctrine apply.

Appellant also relied upon the personal comfort exception as set forth in King Waterproofing Co. v. Slovsky, 71 Md. App. 247 (1987). In Slovsky, Claimant was a part-time telephone solicitor who was struck by an automobile while on a paid break. At the time Claimant was struck, he was crossing the street in order to get food and a drink from a nearby restaurant. To determine whether Claimant’s injury was compensable, the Court considered whether the Claimant sustained his accidental injury while engaged in some personal comfort activity incidental to his employment. The Court reasoned that an injury during an off-premises coffee break could easily occur during an on-premises coffee break; therefore, the injury was compensable.

Here, the Court of Special Appeals recognized that in order for the personal comfort exception to apply, there must be some mutual benefit between the employee and employer. While Appellant believes the personal comfort exception was applicable because he would have been compensated while running personal errands, this activity was neither encouraged nor accepted by his supervisor and his argument must therefore fail.

The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the Circuit Court’s ruling finding that Appellant did not suffer a compensable injury arising out of and in the course of employment.

For further information concerning the defense of Maryland workers' compensation matters, call Steve Schwinn at 703-246-0900.