State v. Okafor

Decision Date02 October 2015
Docket NumberNo. 1691, Sept. Term, 2014.,1691, Sept. Term, 2014.
Citation123 A.3d 698,225 Md.App. 279
PartiesSTATE of Maryland v. Oliver O. OKAFOR.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Timothy E. McLaughlin (Humphreys, McLaughlin & McAleer, LLC, on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for appellant.

Kenneth G. Macleay (Hall, Butler, Macleay & Barnes, LLC, on the brief), Millersville, MD, for appellee.

Panel: DEBORAH S. EYLER, NAZARIAN, CHARLES E. MOYLAN, JR. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

Opinion

DEBORAH S. EYLER, J.

Oliver O. Okafor, the appellee, is employed as a Trooper First Class by the Maryland State Police (“MSP”), an agency of the State of Maryland, the appellant. On January 25, 2013, while in uniform and driving to work in his own car, Trooper Okafor was involved in an automobile accident and sustained personal injuries.

After Trooper Okafor successfully pursued a claim for benefits against the State before the Workers' Compensation Commission (“Commission”), the State brought an action for judicial review in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. It filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied. The case was tried to a jury, which found that Trooper Okafor had sustained an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of his employment. Judgment was entered, and the State filed a timely motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or new trial. The court denied the motion and this appeal followed.

The State presents two questions for review, which we have combined and rephrased as follows:

Did the circuit court err by declining to rule as a matter of law that Trooper Okafor's accidental injury did not arise out of and in the course of his employment?1

For the reasons to follow, we shall affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

At the relevant time, Trooper Okafor was working at the Forestville barrack, in Prince George's County, and was living in Great Mills, St. Mary's County, 50 miles away.

It is the policy of the MSP to assign each Trooper a patrol car to use during work hours and also when off duty, including when driving to and from work. On January 24, 2013, the day before the accident, Trooper Okafor was working the 2 p.m. to midnight shift. He drove his patrol car to work and used it during work. Late in the shift, it began to experience engine problems. He drove it to the College Park barrack, which houses the repair facility for all patrol cars belonging to the MSP. Repair facility workers determined that Trooper Okafor's patrol car needed to be left there for repair.

Trooper Okafor routinely kept his personal vehicle, a 2008 Nissan Sentra, at the College Park barrack. By the time he dropped his patrol car off it was the end of his shift. He drove his Sentra home.

The next day, January 25, 2013, Trooper Okafor again was scheduled to work the 2 p.m. to midnight shift, at the Forestville barrack. He got up and dressed in his uniform, complete with service revolver, baton, hand radio, handcuffs, badge, and all required medals and insignia. He left home in his Sentra and began the drive to the Forestville barrack. The Sentra was not fitted with a police radio, sirens, or any other police equipment. Trooper Okafor's hand radio, which he wore on his shoulder, had a limited range of communication.

Trooper Okafor was running late for work. At 1:53 p.m., his Sentra was clipped by another vehicle; the impact caused Trooper Okafor to lose control of the Sentra, which left the roadway and collided with a tree. The site of the accident was about 35 miles from the Forestville barrack. Trooper Okafor sustained injuries and was transported to a hospital for treatment.

On February 20, 2013, Trooper Okafor filed a claim for benefits with the Commission. The State filed contesting issues. A hearing was held on May 22, 2013. On July 15, 2013, the Commission issued an order that, as relevant, found that Trooper Okafor had sustained an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of his employment and that his claim was not barred by the “going and coming rule.” The Commission awarded Trooper Okafor temporary total disability benefits and medical expenses.

As noted, the State brought an action for judicial review challenging the award. After the parties engaged in discovery, the State filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied. A jury trial was held on July 30, 2014. Two witnesses testified: Trooper Okafor and Lieutenant Roland Butler, who at the time of the accident was Trooper Okafor's supervisor.

Trooper Okafor, called adversely by the State, testified about the events as we have recounted them. He stated that, when he dropped his patrol car off at the College Park barrack for repair on January 24, 2013, it was almost midnight and there were no other patrol cars available at that location for him to use.

Trooper Okafor explained that when he is driving his own car, as opposed to a patrol car, he may arrest anyone he sees committing a felony, and he may stop and render aid if he happens upon an accident or other situation in which people need help. He may not make traffic stops, write tickets, or pursue vehicles in a chase.

Lieutenant Butler also was called by the State. His testimony largely was consistent with Trooper Okafor's. He agreed that a Trooper driving his personal vehicle is not permitted to exercise police powers except to make an arrest upon witnessing a felony or to render aid. He acknowledged that when a Trooper who is off duty but in uniform and driving his personal vehicle gets out of his vehicle, for instance to stop at a convenience store, he is a “billboard” for the Maryland State Police and, “in a sense,” is providing a service to the citizens of Maryland. He stated that a Trooper driving his own vehicle to work is not entitled to reimbursement for the cost of gasoline.

Lieutenant Butler did not testify that there was a patrol car available for Trooper Okafor to take upon turning his patrol car in at the College Park barrack late at night on January 24, 2013. He stated, however, that Troopers who turn their patrol cars in for repair often will contact other Troopers who are off duty or on vacation to borrow one of their patrol cars. He estimated that there were nine Troopers in the area of the College Park barrack from whom Trooper Okafor could have borrowed a patrol car that night.

At the close of the State's case, both parties moved for judgment. The court denied the motions. Trooper Okafor then incorporated his own testimony and that of Lieutenant Butler into his case, moved the Commission's order into evidence, and rested. The State renewed its motion for judgment, but the court reserved ruling on it.

By special verdict, the jurors found that Trooper Okafor had sustained an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of his employment. As noted, after judgment was entered affirming the Commission's order in favor of Trooper Okafor, the State filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for new trial, which was denied.

DISCUSSION
(A)

Under the Maryland Workers' Compensation Act (the Act), [w]hen [an employee] seeks compensation for an accidental personal injury under [Md. Code (1999, 2008 Repl. Vol.), section 9–101(b)(1) of the Labor and Employment Article (“LE”) ] and [LE section 9–501 ], he or she must demonstrate that it both arose out of and in the course of the employment.” Montgomery Cty. v. Wade, 345 Md. 1, 9, 690 A.2d 990 (1997) (emphasis in original).

“An injury arises out of employment when it results from some obligation, condition, or incident of employment.” Livering v. Richardson's Restaurant, 374 Md. 566, 574, 823 A.2d 687 (2003). Thus, [a]rising out of” refers “to the causal connection between the employment and the injury” sustained. Roberts v. Montgomery Cty., 436 Md. 591, 604, 84 A.3d 87 (2014). See also Arthur Larson, Workers' Compensation Law § 3.05 (2015) (“An injury arises out of the employment if it would not have occurred but for the fact that the conditions and obligations of the employment placed [the employee] in the position where he or she was injured.”) (emphasis in original). An injury does not arise out of the employment if, absent additional facts, “the causative hazard is a common peril to which the public-at-large is exposed, not just the [employee.] Richard Gilbert et al., Maryland Workers' Compensation Handbook § 5.04 (4th ed. 2013) (citations omitted).

Whether an injury occurred “in the course of” employment is a function of the “time, place, and circumstances of the accident in relation to the employment.” Roberts, 436 Md. at 604, 84 A.3d 87 ; Livering, 374 Md. at 577, 823 A.2d 687. An injury occurs in the course of employment when it happens “during the period of employment at a place where the employee reasonably may be in performance of his or her duties and while fulfilling those duties or engaged in something incident thereto.” Wade, 345 Md. at 11, 690 A.2d 990. In deciding whether an injury occurred in the course of employment, “the entire sphere and period of employment may be considered and also whether the employee has placed himself outside his employment, and, if so, how far.” Knoche v. Cox, 282 Md. 447, 454, 385 A.2d 1179 (1978) (citations omitted). This is a fact-specific inquiry. Md. Cas. Co. v. Ins. Co. of N. Am., 248 Md. 704, 708, 238 A.2d 88 (1968).

Maryland case law is clear that an injury sustained by an employee while commuting to or from work is “not considered to arise out of and in the course of employment” and therefore is not compensable. Roberts, 436 Md. at 606, 84 A.3d 87 ; Morris v. Bd. of Educ. of Prince George's Cty., 339 Md. 374, 379, 663 A.2d 578 (1995) ; see also Rumple v. The Henry H. Meyer Co., Inc., 208 Md. 350, 357, 118 A.2d 486 (1955). This settled law is known as the “going and coming rule.” Its premise is that “hazards encountered by an employee while commuting to work are common to all workers, no matter what their job, and hence, such risks cannot be directly attributable to a person's...

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4 books & journal articles
  • Injuries Covered By the Act
    • United States
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    ...Ryan v. Kasaskeris, 38 Md. App. 317, 381 A.2d 294 (1977).[96] Morris v. Bd. of Educ., 339 Md. 374, 663 A.2d 578 (1995); State v. Okafor, 225 Md. App. 279, 123 A.3d 698 (2015).[97] Lee v. BSI Temps., 114 Md. App. 1, 688 A.2d 968 (1997); Alitalia Linee Aeree Italiane v. Tornillo, 91 Md. App. ......
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    • Maryland State Bar Association Workers' Compensation Manual (MSBA) (2024 Ed.) Chapter One The Maryland Workers' Compensation Act
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