Final Order – (Continuation of Schutter, W.C. No. 4-520-338 (2002)
Mr. Simon is well-versed in the statutory provisions that govern the workers’ compensation system in Colorado. Due to this level of knowledge, Mr. Simon ensures that his clients receive all the benefits that they are afforded by Colorado law.
Such knowledge was displayed in the case of Mr. Simon’s client, Berlinda Schutter, who worked for a temporary employment agency known as Tandem Staffing (Tandem). Ms. Schutter, who did not have an automobile, would ride public transportation to Tandem’s office each day, and then be assigned to work at various remote locations. In order to travel to various locations, Ms. Schutter would either ride in Tandem’s company van, with another employee, or by public transportation. If Ms. Schutter rode with another employee or in Tandem’s van, she was charged $1.00 each way.
On the morning of October 24, 2001, Tandem assigned Ms. Schutter a position with Get-a-Grip, and instructed her to ride to the work site with another employee. In route, Ms. Schutter was injured in an automobile accident.
After Ms. Schutter hired Mr. Simon, her case was brought before an administrative law judge (ALJ) to determine her medical benefits. At first hearing, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Schutter was engaged in a “ridesharing arrangement” as defined in § 8-40-201(8), C.R.S. 2002, which barred her from compensation. However, Mr. Simon’s knowledge of the correct interpretation and meaning of a “ridesharing arrangement” allowed him to timely appeal the decision.
On review of the issue, the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (the Panel) reversed the order of the ALJ determining Ms. Schutter’s participation in a ridesharing arrangement and remanded the issue for further findings of fact.
On remand, the ALJ issued an order on October 18, 2002, which found that Ms. Schutter’s employment contract contemplated travel, Tandem requested the travel, and Tandem received a benefit beyond Ms. Schutter’s arrival at work. From these determinations, the ALJ found Ms. Schutter’s injuries arose out of and in the course of employment.
Since the October 18, 2002, order did not specify any benefits, a supplemental order was entered on November 6, 2002, which grated specific benefits to Ms. Shutter. The order was timely appealed by Tandem.
On appeal, Tandem argued that the Panel erred in finding that Ms. Shutter was not engaged in a “ridesharing arrangement.” Tandem pointed to the company’s lack of control over Ms. Shutter’s method of travel to work locations and lack of payment for her travel to work locations as reasons why she was involved in a ridesharing arrangement.
The Panel was ultimately unpersuaded by Tandem’s assertion. Tandem was correct that the general rule holds that injuries sustained in the course of travel to and from work are not compensable. However, Ms. Schutter’s situation fit a unique exception to the general rule, because she traveled beyond Tandem’s place of business and at the request and benefit of Tandem. Further, the Panel agreed with Mr. Simon’s conclusion that Loffland Brothers Co. v. Industrial Commission, 714 P.2d 509 (Colo. App. 1985) limits the applicability of “ridesharing” to travel to and from work, not travel from work to another work space.
Alternatively, Tandem argued the factors outlined in Madden v. Mountain West Fabricators, 977 P.2d 861 (Colo. 1999) proved Ms. Schutter’s injury did not arise out of or in the course of employment. The Panel, however, distinguished Ms. Schutter’s situation from the claimant in Madden, primarily because Ms. Schutter was required and willing to travel beyond Tandem’s office. Therefore, the Panel found that the ALJ’s determination that Ms. Schutter was injured in the scope of her employment was adequately supported by the record.
Tandem also argued that the Panel’s decision would lead to “nonsensical results” where travel to and from work places in many industries would be considered as “contemplated in employment contracts.” The Panel responded by stating their previous decisions already determined that travel to and from the workplace of healthcare providers was contemplated in employment contracts, and other situations would be taken as they arose.
Last, the Panel rejected Tandem’s argument that the Panel’s initial review and remand for findings of fact were erroneous. Tandem argued that the ALJ’s initial determination clearly proved that travel was not contemplated by the employment contract. The Panel found that the findings of the ALJ were inconsistent with the facts on record, and therefore further findings of fact on the issue of travel contemplation were required for a determination by the ALJ.
In this scenario, the employer tried several legal avenues to deny Ms. Schutter her benefits. However, Mr. Simon’s knowledge of workers’ compensation case law and statutory provision allowed him to prevail for his client and ensure that she received her workers’ compensation medical benefits. This case involved multiple court appearances and appeals. So great was Mr. Simon’s commitment to his client that he advanced all costs of appeal and charged no additional fees for appeal.