DC Workers Comp: Bus driver's injuries when walking back to her car at end of first half of a split shift were compensable

In Lee v. DOES and WMATA, No. 21-AA-0130 (D.C. May 26, 2022), the D.C. Court of Appeals reversed the Compensation Review Board, finding that a WMATA bus driver’s workers’ compensation claim was compensable when she had been injured while walking to her personal vehicle at the end of the first half of a split shift. The D.C. Court of Appeals found that the bus driver’s injuries arose out of and in the course of employment.

The Court rejected the Compensation Review Board’s reliance on the “going and coming” rule, since this case fell within the well-established exception to that rule where the employee is paid for her travel time, so that the hazards of the journey are properly regarded as hazards of employment.

The bus driver’s work during the first half of the split shift effectively left her stranded several blocks away from her origin point and vehicle, and she had to walk back to her origin point to complete the first half of the split shift.

In reviewing a Compensation Review Board decision, the Court may reverse only if it concludes that the CRB decision was arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with the law.

With regard to whether the bus driver’s injuries arose out of her employment, the Court stated that whether an injury arises out of employment “refers to the origin or cause of the injury.” The Court found that the risk of falling during the walk was a neutral risk, subject to the “positional-risk” test. The positional-risk test asks whether a claimant’s injuries would not have happened but for the fact that conditions and obligations of employment placed claimant in a position where she was injured.

The Court found that the positional-risk test was satisfied, because the bus driver at the end of the first half of her split shift was effectively stranded, leaving her locked bus behind for her relief, and she had to walk back to her point of origin to conclude that part of the shift. That placed her in the position where she was injured while walking back to her car. She was injured during her paid travel time in walking back to the garage.

Concerning whether the bus driver’s injuries arose in the course of her employment, that requires asking whether the injuries occurred during a reasonable and foreseeable activity that is reasonably related to or incidental to the employment or resulted from a risk created by the employment. The Court found that this test was met, as the bus driver’s walk back to her car was reasonably incidental to her employment and she was in a place where she would reasonably be expected to be en route back to her origin point.