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Salazar v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office.

2022 COA 13. No. 21CA0438.  Workers’ Compensation—Quasi-Course of Employment Doctrine—Compensable Injury.

January 20, 2022

Claimant worked for 3ATS, d/b/a Grand Valley Tree Service (GVTS), from June 2019 through January 2020. On January 13, 2020, claimant advised GVTS’s owner that he had sustained injuries while trimming and removing trees on January 10, 2020, and that he needed medical attention. The owner gave claimant a list of doctors to choose from, and claimant selected Dr. Sofish. Claimant was involved in a car accident while traveling to see Dr. Sofish on January 16, 2020. Based on claimant’s documented history of preexisting chronic back pain and degenerative disc changes, GVTS and its insurer, Pinnacol Assurance (collectively, employer), filed a notice of contest challenging the causation of claimant’s injuries. To support its position, employer sent claimant to Dr. Reiss for an independent medical examination. Dr. Reiss found that claimant had not suffered a work injury on January 10, but may have exacerbated his preexisting injuries in the subsequent car accident. Claimant applied for a hearing, seeking medical and temporary total disability benefits. An administrative law judge (ALJ) determined that claimant did not sustain a compensable injury, so the injuries he later sustained in the car accident did not fall under the quasi-course of employment doctrine. A panel of the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (Panel) upheld the denial and dismissal of the claim for benefits.

On appeal, claimant did not challenge the ALJ’s finding that he did not suffer an injury on January 10. Rather, he argued that the quasi-course of employment doctrine required coverage of the car accident injuries because he would not have been traveling to see Dr. Sofish but for his contractual relationship with employer, which allowed employer to designate his medical provider. The quasi-course of employment doctrine extends workers’ compensation coverage to injuries sustained while traveling to or from covered medical care only when there first exists an initial compensable injury for which treatment was sought. Here, claimant did not sustain a compensable injury on January 10, so the quasi-course of employment doctrine did not apply. Accordingly, the Panel did not err in upholding the ALJ’s determination that any injuries claimant sustained as a result of the car accident were not compensable.

Claimant also contended that the ALJ and the Panel violated his equal protection right by treating him differently than others involved in secondary accidents. He argued that by denying him and others like him coverage, two similarly situated groups are treated inequitably: those who initially suffered compensable injuries versus those whose injuries were found to be non-compensable. However, claimants who have sustained a compensable work-related injury are covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act (Act), but the Act does not cover those whose injuries were found to be causally unrelated to their work or who suffered no discernible injury. Thus, these two groups are not similarly situated, and claimant’s equal protection claim necessarily failed.

The order was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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