California Cop to Receive Workers’ Comp Benefits for Vacation Injury

A police officer who was injured while on vacation while he was training for a physical fitness test is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, the California Court of Appeal recently ruled.

According to Tomlin v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, Dave Tomlin, a police officer for the city of Beverly Hills, is a member of the police’s Special Response Team, referred to as SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics Unit). In addition, Tomlin is an instructor in defense tactics, both for SWAT and for other BHPD police officers. As part of continuing to be a SWAT member, officers must pass a physical fitness test prior to joining SWAT and pass an annual physical fitness test involving a half-mile run, climbing a wall, and dragging 150 pounds.

As such, court documents indicate the BHPD pays Tomlin to train four days each month, and has sent him to train at Camp Pendleton and out of state. Tomlin otherwise maintains his physical fitness by running, bicycle riding, and weight lifting with other SWAT team members outside of work. He is not paid for these outside workouts. Yet he has been running three or four times a week for the past 15 years, and covers three to six miles per run. He normally runs while on vacation to maintain his fitness.

In 2005, Tomlin began a course of fitness training to prepare for the SWAT test, and expected to continue training during a two-week vacation he had scheduled from Dec. 26, 2005, to Jan. 11, 2006. During one of his vacation runs, he slipped on a sidewalk when rounding a corner. His left foot struck the curb as he fell, and he broke his left ankle. The injury required surgery and kept Tomlin out of work until March 16, 2006, when he was able to resume work with modified duties. He later resumed his full duties. He was unable to take the January 2006 physical fitness exam, but took and passed a subsequent test, court documents said.

Tomlin applied for workers’ compensation benefits arising out of his running injury. The city of Beverly Hills denied his claim, asserting that his injury occurred while he was voluntarily participating in an off-duty recreational or athletic activity. A Workers’ Compensation Administrative Law Judge (WCJ) denied Officer Tomlin workers’ compensation benefits. And the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) denied his petition for reconsideration.

Although the BHPD “expected [Officer Tomlin] to maintain a level of fitness to pass an agility exam,”; the WCJ “doubt[ed] the employer expected the employee to be jogging in strange terrain, hundreds of miles away while on vacation,” WCAB said.

However, the Court of Appeal said, “As Officer Tomlin is required by his employer to be fit and to pass annual mandatory fitness tests, physical fitness training, whether on vacation or not, is a reasonable expectancy of Officer Tomlin’s employment. To cease training while on vacation would be inconsistent with the BHPD’s requirement that Officer Tomlin remain fit enough to pass the physical fitness test.”

The Appeals Court thus annulled WCAB’s decision and remanded the matter to the WCAB for proceedings consistent with its opinion.

Source: California Courts