Weisman v. Tierney Broths. Constr. and Auto-Owners Ins. Group

Weisman v. Tierney Broths. Constr. and Auto-Owners Ins. Group, No. WC13-5583 (W.C.C.A. Oct. 18, 2013)

The W.C.C.A. affirmed a compensation judge’s ruling that the injuries an employee sustained during a rescue attempt were compensable because they arose out of and in the course of his employment.

The employee worked for the employer as a storm damage estimator.  He inspected roofs for storm damage and then tried to obtain repair contacts with the affected homeowners.  The employee was required to travel, usually with coworkers or the owner of the company.

In July 2010, the employee and the owner were traveling together.  They came upon the scene of a motor vehicle accident.  The employee told the owner to stop the vehicle so they could get out and help the motorists.  The owner refused and said someone else would help.  The employee again told the owner to stop the vehicle.  This time the owner complied, and the owner and employee both ran toward the accident scene.  The employer helped a motorist who was trapped in his vehicle.  The employee pulled one of the motorists out from her burning vehicle, which exploded.  The employee was exposed to fire and smoke, and claimed entitlement to certain workers’ compensation benefits based on pulmonary injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.  The employer and insurer denied liability because the employee had not been acting in the course and scope of his employment when he was allegedly injured.  The compensation judge disagreed and awarded benefits.

The W.C.C.A. stated it was reasonably foreseeable that employees in jobs involving substantial driving will come upon accidents and, when they do, it is also reasonably foreseeable that employees “may be moved to render aid.”  Nonetheless, the W.C.C.A. did not disturb the compensation judge’s findings and upheld the award of benefits.  The fact that the employer (Sean Tierney) had pulled the vehicle to the side of the road, run to the accident scene, and helped a motorist, “implicitly directed the employee to participate in the rescue.”

This case is distinguishable Weidenbach v. Miller, 55 N.W.2d 289 (Minn. 1952), where the employer was a passenger in a vehicle driven by the employee, who decided to stop the vehicle and run on to a frozen lake to help a man who had fallen through the ice.  The employee drowned in the rescue attempt.  The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld a denial of benefits.