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O’Leary v. Brown-Pacific-Maxon, Inc. - 340 U.S. 504, 71 S. Ct. 470 (1951)

Rule:

Workmen's compensation is not confined by common-law conceptions of scope of employment. The test of recovery is not a causal relation between the nature of employment of the injured person and the accident. Nor is it necessary that the employee be engaged at the time of the injury in activity of benefit to his employer. All that is required is that the "obligations or conditions" of employment create the "zone of special danger" out of which the injury arose. Rescue attempts are not necessarily excluded from the coverage of the Act as the kind of conduct that employees engage in as frolics of their own.

Facts:

The employee drowned when he plunged into a channel in an attempt to rescue two men in distress. At the time he had been using his employer's recreation center near the channel. The employee's mother filed a claim under the Act, and the Deputy Commissioner found that at the time of the employee's death he was engaged in an incident of his employment and that his death arose out of and in the course of his employment. Therefore, the Deputy Commissioner awarded the mother a weekly death benefit. On respondents' appeal to the district court, it refused to set aside the award because there was substantial evidence to sustain the compensation order. However, the appellate court reversed, concluding that the lethal currents were not part of the recreational facilities supplied by the employer, and the employee's attempted rescue was not recreation but was disconnected with any use of the recreational facilities. The United States Supreme Court reversed, holding that a reasonable rescue attempt could be one of the risks of employment, foreseeable, if not foreseen, and so covered by the Act.

Issue:

Could a reasonable rescue attempt be one of the risks of employment covered by the Act?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Act authorizes payment of compensation for "accidental injury or death arising out of and in the course of employment." § 2 (2), 44 Stat. 1425, 33  [****5]  U. S. C. § 902 (2). As we read its opinion the Court of Appeals entertained the view that this standard precluded an award for injuries incurred in an attempt to rescue persons not known to be in the employer's service, undertaken in forbidden waters outside the employer's premises. We think this is too restricted an interpretation of the Act.  Workmen's compensation is not confined by common-law conceptions of scope of employment.Cardillo v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 330 U.S. 469, 481Matter of Waters v. Taylor Co., 218 N. Y. 248, 251, 112 N. E. 727, 728. The test of recovery is not a causal relation between the nature of employment of the injured person and the accident. Thom v. Sinclair, [1917] A. C. 127, 142. Nor is it necessary that the employee be engaged at the time of the injury in activity of benefit to his employer.All that is required is that the "obligations or conditions" of employment create the "zone of special danger" out of which the injury arose. Ibid. A reasonable rescue attempt, like pursuit in aid of an officer making an arrest, may be "one of the risks of the employment, an incident of the service, foreseeable, if not foreseen, and so covered by the statute." Matter of Babington v. Yellow Taxi Corp., 250 N. Y. 14, 17, 164 N. E. 726, 727Puttkammer v. Industrial Comm'n, 371 Ill. 497, 21 N. E. 2d 575. This is not to say that there are not cases "where an employee, even with the laudable purpose of helping another, might go so far from his employment and become so thoroughly disconnected from the service of his employer that it would be entirely unreasonable to say that injuries suffered by him arose out of and in the course of his employment." We hold only that rescue attempts such as that before us are not necessarily excluded from the coverage of the Act as the kind of conduct that employees engage in as frolics of their own.

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