Arizona Court: Off Duty Officer Injury Qualifies for Workers’ Comp

March 26, 2008

Arizona’s Court of Appeals has ruled that an administrative law judge erred in finding that an off-duty police officer’s gunshot injury in the course of protecting a friend was not due workers’ compensation because the officer’s employment rules required him to take action to safeguard life even while off duty.

In Kelly J. Lane v. The Industrial Commission of Arizona, Lane, an officer for the Tucson Police Department (TPD), testified he had been riding his mountain bike while off duty at night in rural Pinal County, Ariz., with two friends, Randy R. and Keith L. After the ride, they were standing near their two vehicles, when they heard gunshots. At Lane’s suggestion, they decided to pack up and leave the area. In helping to get his friend Randy behind the safety of their vehicle, Lane was shot in the back.

Lane later maintained that, when he left the position of safety behind his vehicle to assist Randy, he did so in part based on his police training and in part because “[he] would do that for a friend,
even if [he] wasn’t a cop,” court documents state. Lane received emergency surgery immediately, had several more surgeries as part of his recovery, and spent 30 days in an intensive care unit. Upon his recovery, Lane filed a report with his police captain, who concluded that concluded Lane had been “acting as a law enforcement officer at the time of the shooting.”

An administrative law judge issued an award finding Lane’s claim
noncompensable because he had not been acting as a peace officer at the time he was injured, and therefore implicitly concluding his injury did not “aris[e] out of and in the course of his
employment” as required by A.R.S. § 23-1021(A) to be compensable,” court documents state.

However, the appeals court found that Lane’s injury did arise out of and in the course of his employment and is therefore compensable. In order for an injury to be considered arising out of employment, “the injury must result from some risk of the employment or be incidental to the discharge of the duties thereof,” the appeals court said. Lane argued his injury arose out of his employment because “his work as a law enforcement officer increased the risk that he would be injured while responding to criminal activity, such as a shooting.”

“Lane suffered both an increased risk and, arguably, a peculiar risk arising out of his employment under the specific circumstances of the case. Although Lane was off duty, the relevant code of conduct for his employment required him to “act in an official capacity if [he] observe[d] an incident requiring police action . . . [to] safeguard life, property, or prevent the escape of a felon or violent criminal,” the court said.

“Because Lane has established that his injury had the requisite “quantum of ‘work-connection'” to satisfy both the arising out of and in the course of employment elements of the test for determining compensability, we set aside the award,” wrote Presiding Judge Peter J. Eckerstrom.

For more information about the case, visit

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