In a recent appeal, the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (the Panel) determined whether injuries sustained subsequent to an initial incident are considered compensable under the quasi-course of employment doctrine, when the initial incident was not compensable.
In Salazar, the claimant worked in the tree trimming and removal business. On January 10, 2020, the claimant alleged he sustained an injury to his low back while lifting heavy branches at work. The claimant reported the incident the following Monday and requested to see a doctor. The claimant selected to see Dr. Sofish. On January 16, 2020, the claimant’s wife was driving the claimant to his doctor’s appointment when their car was struck by another motor vehicle. The claimant alleged injures involving his neck, right arm, thoracic and lumbar spine due to the accident. During the course of investigating the claim, it was discovered the claimant had previously sustained a back injury in 2002 when he fell off an oil rig. The claimant had been treating intermittently for the effects of that injury since then and had sought treatment as recently as two weeks prior to the January 10, 2020 incident. Dr. Sofish advised the claimant his low back complaints were likely due to the effects of his 2002 injury. Claimant subsequently underwent an independent medical examination with Dr. Reiss who concluded the claimant was experiencing the residual effects of his 2002 fall rather than having sustained a new injury on January 10, 2020.
At hearing, the ALJ concluded the claimant did not sustain an injury at work and that the work activities did not aggravate, accelerate, or combine with his preexisting condition to produce the need for medical treatment. While the claimant argued that his work restrictions, receipt of medical treatment, and actual wage loss was evidence that an injurious event occurred, the Panel stated “merely because the claimant required medical treatment or sustained wage loss does not automatically dictate the conclusion that his injury is work-related.” The claimant must show by a preponderance of the evidence the need for medical treatment was proximately caused by an injury arising out of and in the course of scope of his employment.
The claimant also asserted the injuries he incurred in the motor vehicle collision on January 16, 2020 were compensable despite failing to show he sustained a compensable injury on January 10, 2020. The claimant argued the quasi-course of employment doctrine requires that injures sustained by a claimant on the way to treatment with a provider designated as authorized by the employer are compensable. He further argued that he was involved in the collision while traveling to receive medical treatment authorized by the employer and had not yet been informed the employer denied his claim. He asserted he was consequently required to attend the appointment as an implied part of the employment contract. The claimant argued there was no case law that required the presence of a compensable injury before the quasi-course of employment rule controls.
The Panel explained the “quasi-course of employment” doctrine applies to activities undertaken by the worker which follow a compensable injury. Under the doctrine, although the activities take place outside the time and space limits of normal employment and would not be considered employment activities for usual purposes, they are still related to the employment in the sense that they are necessary or reasonable activities that would not have been undertaken but for the compensable injury. The Panel also stated it explicitly required that the quasi-course of employment doctrine only be applied when the travel to or participation in medical treatment involves a compensable injury. The Panel cited Travelers Ins. Co. v. Savio, 706 P.2d 1258, 1265 (Colo. 1985) for the position that a “subsequent injury is compensable under the quasi-course of employment doctrine only if it is the ‘direct and natural’ consequence of an original injury which itself is compensable.”
The Panel upheld the ALJ’s findings denying the claim for benefits. The Panel stated that Colorado case law made clear that in order to recover for subsequent injuries sustained under the quasi-course of employment doctrine, the original incident needs to be compensable. Because the claimant’s January 10, 2020 event was found to not be compensable, the injury sustained while driving to obtain treatment for a non-compensable injury was also not compensable.
Salazar v. 3ATS d/b/a Grand Valley Tree Services, W.C. No. 5-128-144 (I.C.A.O. March 3, 2021).