Maryland High Court Says Bus Driver’s Accident Traveling to Training Session May Have Been “Special Mission”

Claim Not Barred, as a Matter of Law, by Going and Coming Rule

A county bus driver, who sustained injuries in an auto accident as she traveled to attend a mandatory training session held on a Saturday was not a traveling employee, held a divided Court of Appeals of Maryland in Calvo v. Montgomery County, 2018 Md. LEXIS 298 (May 21, 2018). She might nevertheless be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under the special mission exception to the going and coming rule, since the mandatory training occurred on Saturday, her normal day off, and at another employer-owned facility, not the depot where she usually reported, indicated the majority of the Court. Summary judgment should not, therefore, have been entered by the state trial court.

Background

Calvo, a 20-year employee with the county, received a letter from her employer notifying her that she was scheduled to attend an “important mandatory training” on a subsequent Saturday. Her normal work schedule was Monday through Friday. The employer required all employees to attend this training annually. En route to the training, Calvo was rear-ended by another car as she waited at a traffic light.

The Commission found that Calvo sustained an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of the employment and awarded benefits. The employer sought review at the Circuit Court level. That court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, finding Calvo’s claim barred by the going and coming rule. In an unreported opinion, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed and the Court of Appeals granted certiorari.

Positional Risk Doctrine

Quoting Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 3.05, the majority of the Court noted that Maryland had adopted the positional risk rule to determine if an injury arose out of the employment. In analyzing the “in the course of the employment” issue, the majority considered “the time, place, and circumstances of the accident in relation to the employment.”

Calvo contended her claim fell within two exceptions to the normal going and coming rule. First, she contended the “special mission or errand” exception applied. Second, she argued that she was a traveling employee at the time of her accident.

No Traveling Employee

The majority of the Court ruled Calvo was not a traveling employee, stressing that the requirement that Calvo report from her home to a different, but not very distant, work location did not transform her into a traveling employee. Her injury did not occur on the premises of a different location where her employer required her to stay to perform work functions.

Special Mission Exception Might Apply

Citing Barnes v. Children’s Hosp., 109 Md. App. 543, 675 A.2d 558 (1996) and quoting Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, the majority held the special mission exception applied to the case. It was undisputed that Calvo’s attendance was mandatory. Her attendance benefitted the employer. While the training did take place annually, it was not sufficiently “regular” to constitute a part of Calvo’s ordinary duties. Moreover, she was required to report for the training on a day that she would ordinarily have been off work.

The requirement that Calvo attend the session was also “onerous,” as that term has been used in special mission cases, said the majority. While there was no strong element of urgency in Calvo’s case, the majority, again quoting Larson, stressed that urgency was not an absolute requirement. While the majority of the Court acknowledged that it was a “close case,” the evidence created permissible inferences from which a jury could have rationally concluded that the special mission applied. Summary judgment was, therefore, not appropriate.

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