Lieutenant Seth Patrick Lantz, a 33-year-old correctional officer at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California, was killed in an automobile accident at 6:20 a.m. on Saturday, October 2, 2010 on his way home from work. He lived in the Bakersfield area and commuted to the prison in his own vehicle. The one-way commute was over 85 miles.
Lantz regularly worked 40 hours per week and had Sundays and Mondays as his regular days off. But, on the day of the accident, Lantz worked his regularly assigned shift.and was informed that he would need to “hold over” and serve as the watch commander for the next shift, which ran from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. When a replacement watch commander is needed, the procedure used for selecting the replacement has been agreed upon by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Department) and the officers’ union. Lantz was assigned the hold-over shift as watch commander in accordance with the reverse seniority procedure because no one had volunteered to take the shift. Lantz had served as watch commander before.
While traveling home, Lantz drove his personal vehicle and the only state property he transported to and from work was a protective vest. With regard to commutes in general, Lieutenant Contreras testified that Department employees were not paid for their commuting time, were not required to own personal vehicles, and were not required to wear their uniforms to and from work. In fact, correctional officers were advised to remove or cover the upper part of their uniform when commuting. Lockers at the prison are unassigned and available on a first come, first serve basis. As a result, many correctional officers wear their uniforms to work, but wear something over the shirt during their commute. He died as a result of a fatal accident on his way home after the “hold over” shift.
Lantz’s widow, on behalf of herself and four children (applicants), applied for workers’ compensation benefits, contending that Lantz sustained the fatal injury during the course of his employment. After a trial, Workers’ Compensation Administrative Law Judge Robert K. Norton issued an order that included findings of fact. The first finding stated that Lantz “sustained an injury arising out of and in the course of his employment resulting in his death.”
The State Compensation Insurance Fund (State Fund) filed a petition for reconsideration which was granted. The WCAB rescinded the order and determined that (1) the one-way commute of more than 85 miles traveled by Lantz, while significant, constituted the ordinary, local commute that marked Lantz’s transit to and from work and (2) the change in schedule caused by the second shift did not, by itself, mean the departure time was not fixed. Accordingly, the WCAB concluded that the going and coming rule would control the outcome unless the “special mission” exception applied. The WCAB concluded that it was not extraordinary for Lantz to be held over and required to work a second shift – an occurrence so common that the employer and officers’ union had established official procedures for assigning hold-over shifts. Second, the WCAB indicated that requiring Lantz to act as the watch commander was not extraordinary because it was part of established procedures, the duties performed in that position were similar to his usual responsibilities, and Lantz was among the officers regularly assigned to that position. The WCAB stated the assignment as watch commander increased the number of individuals under his authority, but the activities of the watch commander were not dramatically different from Lantz’s day-to-day obligations. Consequently, the WCAB granted the petition for reconsideration and ordered the substitution of a finding that stated Lantz “did not sustain an injury arising out of and in the course of his employment with defendant, resulting in his death.”
In March 2013, the Court of Appeal issued an order summarily denying applicants’ petition for writ of review. Applicants then filed a petition for review with the California Supreme Court, which was granted with directions for this court to issue a writ of review. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal reviewed the case affirmed the denial of death benefits in the published opinion of Lantz v WCAB The Court concluded that “The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) denied the application for benefits, determining that the hold-over shift as watch commander was not extraordinary because, among other things, it was assigned in accordance with procedures agreed upon by the prison administration and the officers’ union and did not dramatically change his activities. We conclude the WCAB’s decision involved weighing evidence and choosing among conflicting inferences that could be drawn from that evidence and, therefore, is properly characterized as a finding of fact. Under the standards for judicial review established by the Labor Code, we must uphold the finding of fact that the hold-over shift was not extraordinary because it is supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the decision of the WCAB denying benefits is affirmed.” .