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Is That Civilian Helping the Sheriff Covered by WC?

January 14th, 2013

Back in the old days, when banks were robbed, horses stolen, or funny looks issued from suddenly scarce visitors, a posse would be formed and frontier justice would be dealt to the guilty (or unlucky) target of the people’s wrath.

Posses are great and have a solid place in California’s history.  The term originates from the Latin “posse comitatus,” which translates to the “force of the county” and allows law enforcement officers to conscript able-bodied citizens to assist them in keeping order or pursuing a fleeing criminal.  In California, the common-law posse comitatus is recognized by Labor Code section 3366, which extends workers’ compensation benefits to any non-employee and non-contractor assisting a law enforcement officer.

Hold on, dear reader, don’t unsubscribe just yet – this does relate to workers’ compensation!

Although your humble blogger does not typically like to report on unpublished cases, the matter of County of Riverside v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (Taylor), is too fun to pass by.

In that case, applicant Sandie Taylor was a member of the Mounted Posse Program established by the Sheriff of Riverside County.  These brave volunteers underwent training, sometimes provided by the county and sometimes at their own expense, and rode their horses in recruitment events, ceremonies, and occasionally to assist in crime scene preservation or search missions.  Their role was primarily that of observation and reporting.

While training her horse to undergo simulated gunfire tests, Ms. Taylor was accidentally thrown from her mount and sustained injury (which EAMS lists as including her elbow, shoulder, and other body parts).

The Workers’ Compensation Judge found that she was not an employee of the County, but the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board reversed, applying the aforementioned LC section 3366.  In response to defendant’s petition for a writ of review, the Court of Appeal issued an unpublished opinion, reversing the Court of Appeal, and finding that Ms. Taylor was not an employee of the County.

No good deed goes unpunished, Ms. Taylor, even volunteering to assist the County Sheriff.

The distinction was in the practical meaning of section 3366 – the fact that the Sheriff has established a largely ceremonial auxiliary group and dubbed it a “posse” does not mean that it is a posse comitatus as defined by Labor Code section 3366.  A posse comitatus is one that is meant to assist in the forceful apprehension of a criminal (as defined by the Court of Appeal: “[i]n that usage, of course, ‘posse,’ as in ‘round up the posse!’ is simply short for posse comitatus, as it typically reflects the sheriff or mashal’s call to local citizens to aid in the pursuit or capture of a bad guy.” See page 5, footnote 6).

Because, at the time of her injury, applicant was “training her horse to cope with stressful situations so that she might serve in the mounted posse in its various assignments”

The Court reasoned that applicant more closely resembled the type of person described in Labor Code section 3352(i), as a volunteer for a public agency.

WCDefenseCA wishes Ms. Taylor a speedy recovery, and hopes that this experience will not spoil her admirable inclinations towards public service.

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