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No comp for police officer hurt on way to assignment

Posted On: Jun. 12, 2015 12:00 AM CST

No comp for police officer hurt on way to assignment

A police officer who was injured while traveling to work at a location where he was temporarily reassigned isn't eligible for workers compensation benefits, a Texas appellate court has ruled.

Officer Jamie Harvel of the Austin Police Department was normally assigned to work at the police station located in downtown Austin, Texas, court records show. However, in May 2012, he was temporarily reassigned to a training camp in a different part of the city to serve as a firearms instructor.

Mr. Harvel was riding his personal motorcycle to work on May 4, 2012, when a car attempting to turn left failed to yield and collided with him, causing him to sustain “significant injuries,” records show.

His claim for workers comp benefits was denied by the City of Austin, which self-insures, according to records. Mr. Harvel challenged the city's decision, but a hearing officer for the Division of Workers' Compensation of the Texas Department of Insurance said he was not acting within the course and scope of his employment at the time of his injury.

According to records, Mr. Harvel then filed suit for judicial review in the 53rd District Court of Travis County, Texas, requesting a declaration that, under the Texas Workers' Compensation Act and the Texas Peace Officer Statutes, a peace officer “is immediately in the course and scope of their employment upon observing an illegal act,” in this case, the driver's failure to yield to oncoming traffic, “especially within their jurisdiction,” court records show.

In a second declaration, Mr. Harvel requested that employer-directed travel for purposes of the Texas Workers' Compensation Act “need not be just from one work place to another location but that an employee traveling at the direction of the employer from home to a specially assigned work location is in the course and scope of his employment while traveling,” according to records.

The Austin Police Association filed a plea seeking the same declarations as Mr. Harvel, leading the Division of Workers' Compensation of the Texas Department of Insurance to file a plea asserting that the police association “had no standing to seek a declaratory judgment,” records show.

The 53rd District Court of Travis County granted the division's plea and dismissed the claims by Mr. Havel and the Austin Police Association, according to records.

The Texas Court of Appeals for the 13th District in Edinburg, Texas, on Thursday affirmed the Travis County court's order.

“The association seeks a declaration that would apply to all of its police officers, but none of those officers except for Officer Harvel are before the court,” according to the ruling. “While it is certainly possible that one of the association's member officers could be injured when traveling to work in a manner similar to Officer Harvel's experience, such an injury is merely hypothetical at this point.”

Regarding Mr. Harvel, the appellate court ruled that sovereign immunity bars his claims because he sought a declaration of his rights under a statute but did not challenge the validity of any statute or ordinance.

According to the ruling, when a plaintiff “has invoked a statutory means of attacking an agency order, a trial court lacks jurisdiction over an additional claim under the (Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act).”