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Workers’ comp does not cover home injury, Md. court says

Worker’s compensation will not be available for a Prince George’s County detective who suffered leg injuries trying to step around his 2-year-old son at home while heading out on assignment.

Andrea-Leahy-Fucheck

Andrea M. Leahy (File photo)

Maryland’s second highest court said this week that Melvin Proctor’s injury was home- and not work-related, even though he was walking toward the family car so his wife could drive him to a county car-repair facility, where his police cruiser was parked.

The Court of Special Appeals’ 3-0 decision restored a ruling by the Workers’ Compensation Commission in favor of Prince George’s County. A circuit court had granted Proctor compensation, saying the injury was compensable because it arose “out of and in the course of his employment” as a detective retrieving his cruiser.

In overturning that ruling, the appellate court said Proctor he had not yet begun his car-retrieval effort when he sought to avoid his son and slipped, spraining his knee and tearing ligaments in his ankle.

“Although Detective Proctor’s testimony reflects that he was preparing to make the journey to retrieve his police cruiser from the county repair facility, he had not yet embarked on that journey, and he was not subject to any directive to retrieve the cruiser on the date of injury,” Judge Andrea M. Leahy wrote in the reported opinion.

Proctor’s attorney, Kenneth G. Macleay, said Thursday that he and his client will appeal the decision to Maryland’s top court, the Court of Appeals.

The intermediate court’s ruling is “not consistent with the way public safety officers are treated before the courts” in Maryland, said Macleay, of The John Hall Law Group LLC in Bowie and a former commissioner on the Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Prince George’s County Attorney M. Andree Green did not return telephone and email messages seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

‘Positional risk’

Proctor had testified before the Workers’ Compensation Commission and then the Prince George’s County Circuit Court that he was enjoying the final days of a 10-day vacation in September 2012 when he learned his cruiser was ready to be picked up from the repair facility. He said he wanted to get the car that day in keeping with county policy that requires cruisers to be retrieved as soon as possible due to limited space at the facility.

As he walked with his wife out the front door, Proctor said his boy “inadvertently” stepped in front of him.

“I jumped to the side to avoid knocking him off the front porch and rolled my ankle, tore ligaments on the inside and outside of my ankle, and sprained by knee,” Proctor told the circuit court.

The Workers’ Compensation Commission rejected Proctor’s claim, saying his injury was not work-related.

The circuit court, however, reversed, saying Proctor – though on vacation – was on call and “needed his cruiser in case he was called in to work.” The county, therefore, placed Proctor in a position of risk in that he “would not have been injured but for the fact he was retrieving his cruiser from fleet maintenance, as required by his employer,” the circuit court said.

But the Court of Special Appeals rejected this “positional-risk” theory of workers’ compensation, noting that Proctor sustained his injury at home and not at the office or during a work-assigned stay at a hotel.

For positional risk to apply, it must be “clear that, but for a task incident to their employment, the employees would not have been in the location where the injury occurred,” Leahy wrote. “It cannot reasonably be said that, but for the need to retrieve his police cruiser, Detective Proctor would not be at his home on his day off stepping through the front door onto his front porch.”

Leahy was joined in the opinion by Judges Kathryn Grill Graeff and James A. Kenney III, a retired jurist sitting by special assignment.

The Court of Special Appeals rendered its decision in Prince George’s County v. Melvin Proctor, No. 2614, September Term 2014.

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