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AGO 1968 No. 38 - December 30, 1968
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


CIVIL DEFENSE - COMPENSATION FOR INJURIES - COVERAGE OF CERTAIN CIVIL DEFENSE WORKERS.

Persons who are registered and identified as "civil defense workers" pursuant to RCW 38.52.010 (5), are not eligible for disability compensation benefits under RCW 38.52.260 where the civil defense type activity in which they were engaged, and in consequence of which they were injured, is not performed under the general or specific direction and control of the state or local civil defense authorities.

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                                                               December 30, 1968

Honorable Thomas S. Pryor
Director, Department of Civil Defense
P.O. Box 1519
Olympia, Washington 98501

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1968 No. 3

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Are persons who are registered and identified as "civil defense workers" pursuant to RCW 38.52.010 (5), eligible for disability compensation benefits under RCW 38.52.260 where the civil defense type activity in which they are engaged, and in consequence of which they are injured, is not performed under the general or specific direction and control of state or local civil defense authorities?

            We answer this question in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            This question arises from a factual situation, as described in connection with your request, involving the status of workers employed by the American National Red Cross when participating in the alleviation of natural disasters within the state of Washington perhaps in support of state civil defense and other governmental agencies, but subject to the exclusive  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] control of their respective Red Cross chapters.1/   Under these circumstances, you ask, are these workers covered by RCW 38.52.260, which provides:

            "Compensation shall be furnished to a civil defense worker either within or without the state for any injury arising out of and occurring in the course of his activities as a civil defense worker, and for the death of any such worker if the injury proximately causes death, in those cases where the following conditions occur:

            "(1) Where, at the time of the injury the civil defense worker is performing services as a civil defense worker, and is acting within the course of his duties as a civil defense worker.

            "(2) Where, at the time of the injury the local organization for civil defense with which the civil defense worker is registered is an approved local organization for civil defense.

            "(3) Where the injury is proximately caused by his service as a civil defense worker, either with or without negligence.

            "(4) Where the injury is not caused by the intoxication of the injured civil defense worker.

            "(5) Where the injury is not intentionally self-inflicted."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Under this statute it is clear that compensation benefits are available only to (1) civil defense workers who are (2) injured during and in consequence of their service as such. Accord, AGO 55-57 No. 251, copy enclosed; cf., AGO 53-55 No. 275.

            The basic requirements which must be met in order for any person to be regarded by law as a civil defense worker are set forth in RCW 38.52.010 (5) as follows:

            "'Civil defense worker' means any person who is registered with a state or local civil defense organization and holds an identification card issued by the state or local civil defense director for the purpose of engaging in authorized civil defense service or is an employee of the state of Washington or any political subdivision thereof who is called upon to perform civil defense service."

            Subsections (6) and (7) of this same statute define "civil defense service" and "injury" as follows:

            "'Civil defense service' means and includes all activities authorized by and carried on pursuant to the provisions of the Washington civil defense act of 1951, including training necessary or proper to engage in such activities.

            "'Injury' as used in this chapter shall mean and include accidental injuries and/or occupational diseases arising out of civil defense service."

            Your question stipulates that the persons (i.e., Red Cross workers) involved are properly registered and identified as "civil defense workers."  Accordingly, the precise issue to be determined narrows down to whether "civil defense service," including training,2/ covers service which is not performed under the general or specific direction and control of state  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] civil defense officials; i.e., the governor,3/ the state civil defense director,4/ the chief executive of counties, cities and towns and the civil defense directors of local political subdivisions.5/

             This question calls for a construction of the definition of "civil defense service" as set forth in RCW 38.52.010 (6),supra.  The object of construction is to ascertain the meaning and intention of the legislature and such intention, when discovered, is controlling.  Cory v. Nethery, 19 Wn.2d 326, 142 P.2d 488 (1943).  In the process of arriving at legislative intent our first resort must be to the context and subject matter of the legislation.  Graffell v. Honeysuckle, 30 Wn.2d 390, 191 P.2d 858 (1948).  Where there is ambiguity a statute should be construed according to its apparent general purpose with a view to executing the design and purpose of the act.  State ex rel. Oregon R. & N. Co. v. Clausen, 63 Wash. 535, 116 Pac. 7 (1911).

            In addition, it is an elementary rule of statutory construction that effect must be given to every word so that no part will be inoperative or insignificant.  Danley v. Cooper, 62 Wn.2d 179, 381 P.2d 747 (1963).  It is also well established that where adherence to the strict letter of a statute would lead to absurd or incongruous results or where it is plain from the entire context and evident purpose of the statute that the language used on a particular matter does not express the legislative intent thereon, a departure from the statute's literal wording is proper.  See,In re Sherwood's Estate, 122 Wash. 648, 211 Pac. 734 (1922); also,Groves v. Meyers, 35 Wn.2d 403, 213 P.2d 483 (1950), andFeatherstone v. Dessert, 173 Wash. 264, 22 P.2d 1050 (1933).

            Applying these rules to the statute under consideration, we first note that the definition of "civil defense service," in RCW 38.52.010 (6), itself states that such service is only that which is carried out under chapter 38.52 RCW (codifying the "Washington civil defense act of 1951," as amended).  Since our review of this chapter reveals no reference to civil defense type activities carried out by agencies, groups, or individuals who are not subject to the direction and control of state or local civil defense authorities, it follows that these are not within the purview of the chapter.  Stating this conclusion in a somewhat different manner, a civil defense  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] service (under the definition) is one which is at all times rendered either within the context and confines of a civil defense organization, or subject to its general and/or specific control.

            This was the essential point which was recognized in AGO 55-57 No. 251,supra, in which we noted the rule making power which has been granted to the state department of civil defense by RCW 38.52.310, which provides:

            "The department of civil defense shall establish by rule and regulation various classes of civil defense workers, the scope of the duties of each class, and the conditions under which said workers shall be deemed to be on duty and covered by the provisions of this chapter.  The department shall also adopt rules and regulations prescribing the manner in which civil defense workers of each class are to be registered."

            In this earlier opinion, after noting this statute, we then reviewed certain rules which had been promulgated thereunder,6/ with respect to the coverage of training programs involving auxiliary police and auxiliary firemen, and based thereon we advised that:

            "When the conditions of RCW 38.52.260 are met, a duly registered auxiliary fireman, while engaged in the training necessary or proper to perform fire fighting services under a local organization functioning in accordance with the state plan and program, is entitled to compensation as provided by the act (RCW 38.52.050 (c); sec. 4, regulation 2, supra)."

            The distinction between that opinion which we hereby affirm and the present situation is that here we are dealing with persons Red Cross workers who in carrying out their powers  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] and duties are regulated by and subject to applicable federal laws7/ from an organizational viewpoint.  Indeed, from the facts you have given us, the only connection between the Red Cross units and state civil defense in situations of natural disasters is one of rendering support to it and other agencies of government and persons, but in so doing retaining at all times their independent control in a general as well as operational sense.

            In addition to the reference in RCW 38.52.010 (6), supra, to "civil defense service . . . authorized by and carried on pursuant to . . ." the state civil defense act, we find in chapter 38.52 RCW various other provisions which illustrate an understanding by the legislature that "civil defense service" requires the element of control and direction by state civil defense authorities, as distinguished from service which is merely rendered in support of these authorities.  Of particular weight in this regard is RCW 38.52.340, which provides:

            "Nothing in this chapter shall deprive any civil defense worker or his dependents of any right to compensation for injury or death sustained in the course of his regular employmenteven though his regular work is under direction of civil defense authorities:  Provided, That such worker, if he is eligible for some other compensation plan, and receives the benefits of such plan shall not also receive any compensation under this chapter.  The department of civil defense shall adopt such rules and regulations as may be necessary to protect the rights of such workers and may enter into agreements with authorities in charge of other compensation plans to insure protection of such workers:  Provided, That if the compensation from some other plan is less than would have been available under this chapter, he shall be entitled to receive the deficiency between the amount received under such other plan and the amount available under this chapter."  (Emphasis supplied.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            The evident purpose of this provision is to make it clear that a civil defense worker who is injured in consequence of the performance of a civil defense service which is performed in the course of his regular employment is not to be denied such alternative compensation as may be payable to persons (e.g., firemen, police officers, deputy sheriffs, or the like) injured in the course of such employmenteven though, because this employment is also a "civil defense service" i.e., because it is performed under the direction of civil defense authorities he is also entitled to compensation under RCW 38.52.260, supra.8/

             This provision, in our opinion, by inference is strong and clear evidence of a legislative intent to provide compensation benefits for only those registered and identified "civil defense workers" who are acting at the time of injury or death under the direction of civil defense authorities.  To infer otherwise would be to disregard the portion of the statute which we have underscored.  In other words, if the legislature had intended that a civil defense worker could qualify for compensation under RCW 38.52.060 without being at the time of injury or death under the direction of civil defense authorities, then there would have been no reason for the legislature to have spoken of his right to take under some alternative plan as existing "even though his regular work is under the direction of civil defense authorities."

            Further statutory support for the same conclusion is found in RCW 38.52.190, which provides:

            "Except as provided in this chapter, a civil defense worker and his dependents shall have no right to receive compensation from the state, from the agency, from the local organization for civil defense with which he is registered, or from the county or city which has empowered the local organization for civil defense to register him and direct his activities, for an injury or death arising out of and occurring in the course of his activities as a civil defense worker."  (Emphasis supplied.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 8]]

            See, also, RCW 38.52.060 (c), providing in pertinent part:

            ". . . All personnel of mobile support units shall,while on duty, be subject to the operational control of the authority in charge of civil defense activities in the area in which they are serving, . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            Likewise, a reading of the definition of "civil defense service" as excluding service which is not performed under the general or specific direction and control of state or local civil defense authorities, is consistent with the rule, noted earlier, that statutes should not be construed so as to reach an absurd or incongruous result.  RCW 38.52.060,supra, appears to allow compensation for injury to a civil defense worker "either within or without the state" occasioned by his performance of "civil defense service."  If the statute were further read to allow such compensation even though the activity occasioning the injury was not performed subject to the direction and control of our own state or local civil defense authorities, compensation might be claimed (for example) by a Red Cross worker registered as a civil defense worker in the state of Washington for injuries sustained while engaged in disaster relief work in connection with, say, a tornado in Iowa or a flood in Indiana.

            Finally, returning to the rule making power of the state civil defense department under RCW 38.52.310, supra, our attention has been directed to that portion of the Washington State Operations Plan for Natural Disasters (§ 1, paragraph 1, d (1), p. 4) which states that Red Cross chapter volunteersmay be classed as "civil defense workers" for compensation coverage and that civil defense directors are encouraged to enroll them.  However, we find nothing in this regulation which goes to the essential point of when the activities of such persons come within the scope of "civil defense service."  Instead, we construe the language of this regulation merely to mean that Red Cross workers, as a class, are eligible to be enrolled as civil defense workers.  Thereupon, consistent with the views expressed in this opinion and with the statement in the regulation, when thus enrolled and registered they will be eligible for civil defense compensation benefits under RCW 38.52.260, supra, when injury is occasioned by their performance of civil defense activities subject to the direction and  [[Orig. Op. Page 9]] control of state or local civil defense authorities (e.g., during war-caused disasters, as distinguished from natural disasters).

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

J. BENEDICT ZDERIC
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/See 36 U.S.C.A. § 4a, with respect to the organizational structure of the American National Red Cross.  Under the provisions of our state civil defense plan (see, RCW 38.52.050 (3) (b)), a distinction is drawn between natural disasters and war-caused disasters, in so far as the status of Red Cross units is concerned.  Appendix 4B II of the plan states that:

            "In awar-caused disaster the assigned Red Cross units will be components of local civil defense organizations, if incorporated into the civil defense plans of political subdivisions.  Financial and administrative responsibility for activities carried out by the Red Cross in a war-caused disaster rests with civil defense."  (Emphasis supplied.)

2/RCW 38.52.010 (6) ". . . including training necessary or proper to engage in such activities."

3/RCW 38.52.050.

4/RCW 38.52.030.

5/RCW 38.52.070.

6/Sections 4 and 5 of regulation No. 2 of the operation plan of the state department of civil defense promulgated May 25, 1953.

7/See, again, 36 U.S.C.A. § 4a; see, also, 42 U.S.C.A. 1885 c.

8/However, if he takes the alternative benefits available under the other plan, he is to receive only the deficiency, if any, between the two benefits.

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