Does Police Officer's Injury During Stop for Lunch Entitles Him to Benefits ?

In McLaughlin v. Pennsylvania State Police, 742 A.2d 254 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999), this Court addressed the issue of what constituted the "performance of his duties" when the Court faced the issue whether a state police officer was eligible for benefits under the Heart and Lung Act. On March 30, 1998, Thomas V. McLaughlin (Officer McLaughlin) of the Police was scheduled to work eight continuous paid hours with no specifically assigned lunch period. Officer McLaughlin stopped at a restaurant for lunch and placed a radio call to the station to notify it that he was stopping for lunch. The station could reach him while he was inside because he had a patrol radio on his person. Under the Police Field Regulation 1-2.27, Officer McLaughlin was entitled to suspend his patrol or other assigned activity and stop to eat one meal for no longer than thirty minutes during the course of his shift. After eating, Officer McLaughlin left the restaurant to return to his patrol car. As he approached his patrol car, he fell and broke his arm. Because of this injury, Officer McLaughlin could not work until May 18, 1998. McLaughlin, 742 A.2d at 255. Officer McLaughlin's application for benefits under the Act was denied. After his administrative hearing the arbitrator recommended that Officer McLaughlin be found eligible for benefits. The Commissioner ruled that Officer McLaughlin was not entitled to benefits because his injury did not occur in the performance of his duties. Officer McLaughlin petitioned for review with this Court. McLaughlin, 742 A.2d at 255. The Court reversed. This Court reviewed the Act and noted that the phrase "performance of his duties" was not defined in the Act. After a review of the case law, this Court determined that "the dispositive inquiry to determine if an officer was injured in the performance of his duties is whether the officer was engaging in an obligatory task, conduct, service, or function that arose from his or her position as a State Police officer as a result of which an injury occurred, irrespective of whether the officer was on duty at the time." McLaughlin, 742 A.2d at 257. With respect to Officer McLaughlin, this Court determined: McLaughlin testified that he had finished eating his lunch. . . . the significance of this fact is that according to FR 1-2.27 members who are on continuous duty shall be permitted to suspend patrol or other assigned activity for the purpose of consuming one meal 'during their tour of duty . . . but only for such period of time as is reasonable or necessary and not to exceed thirty minutes.' . . . Thus the period of time which was necessary for consuming that one meal was over and thus pursuant to the language of FR 1-2.27, so was the suspension of McLaughlin's patrol. As he testified, he was supervising the patrols and was going back out on the road to do so. . . . As the period of suspension of his assigned activity was over, he was duty bound to return to his patrolling. Having finished his lunch, his patrol was no longer suspended and he had an obligation as a police officer to resume that patrol. In attempting to perform this duty, he, of necessity, had to go to and reenter his patrol car. In attempting to do so, he tripped and injured himself. Hence, McLaughlin did not injure himself while at lunch as the PSP [Police] erroneously contend; rather, he injured himself in attempting to fulfill his duty to go back out on patrol after having completed his lunch. Thus, the Commissioner erred in concluding that McLaughlin was not entitled to benefits under the Act. As McLaughlin sustained injuries in the performance of his duty in his capacity as a police officer to go out on patrol, he is entitled to benefits pursuant to the Act. McLaughlin, 742 A.2d at 259.