Safety and OSHA News

Slip-and-fall wasn’t on company property: Why’d he get workers’ comp?

On his way to work, an employee parks his car and walks to the facility entrance. He slips, falls, and seriously injures his knee on an icy/snowy sidewalk. The incident didn’t occur on the company’s property. Despite that, the company is still on the hook for workers’ comp. Why? 

First, here are the facts of the case:

Wilbur Rodgers worked for Wawa, a convenience store chain. One snowy February morning, he parked on a street and walked to the store on a public sidewalk. He slipped on ice and injured his knee. Since then he’s had two surgeries on the knee and hasn’t been able to return to work.

The store had its own parking lot. Why didn’t Rodgers park there? The store’s general manager told all first-shift employees not to park there so customers could use the store lot.

On the day he was injured, Rodgers parked around the corner from the store on a side street.

The sidewalk where Rodgers fell is the property of the Borough of Bridgeport. Wawa did not ever maintain, clean or perform upkeep on the sidewalk.

Rodgers applied for total disability benefits under workers’ comp. The case went to a workers’ comp judge (WCJ) who awarded benefits to Rodgers.

The WCJ found Rodgers’ injury didn’t occur on his employer’s premises. However, the WCJ said that by parking on the side street, Rodgers was following his supervisor’s instructions and benefiting his employer by not taking up a space in the parking lot that would be open for customers.

On appeal, the Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed the WCJ’s opinion. Wawa took the case to a state appeals court. The company claimed Rodgers’ injury wasn’t in the course and scope of his employment and didn’t occur on its property.

No one disputed where Rodgers fell. But in this case, it doesn’t matter that his fall occurred off of his employer’s property.

The appeals court noted that, for an employee who works in one location, an injury sustained while he’s going to or coming from work doesn’t occur in the course of employment.

However, courts have created four exceptions to that rule, one of which applies in this case: if an employee’s commute involves an act that is done to benefit the employer.

In this case, when Rodgers didn’t park in the Wawa lot, it benefited the company because that allowed more customers to park in the lot.

The appeals court agreed with the decision: Rodgers should get total disability benefits.

What do you think about the court’s ruling? Let us know in the comments below.

(Wawa v. Rodgers, Commonwealth Court of PA, No. 659 C.D. 2011, 9/28/11)

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  1. Seems pretty simple to me. I think the system got this one 100% right. This is equivalent to taking a short-cut to benefit the bottom line.

  2. I agree with Ryan. Pretty cut and dried.

  3. George Colby says:

    I am quite happy to see this one handled correctly. The man had the right attitude by following his supervisors instructions. Honestly, he may have gotten more money by sueing the Borough of Bridgport. It looks like he’s just looking for due compensation for being injured, not trying to milk out an incident into a free ride.

    I’m surprised that Wawa contested it, to be truthful. It still surprises me that companies have mission statements that include ‘our employees are our most valuable resource’ and yet contest workers comp cases so they can keep from paying injured workers. What a world we live in…

  4. I agree with verdict. His employer asked him NOT to park in their parking lot and directed him to park elsewhere to keep lot spaces open. It’s sad though that people are no longer responsible for themselves and their own actions. We have become a society of those that blame others. Thanks attorneys!

  5. I agree with the court’s decision. If it was the employers decision to have employees park elsewhere for the benefit of their customers, the employer had a responsibility to make sure the area designated was safe for the use of their employees.

  6. Txwireman says:

    The man was doing as he was told. He was following his employer’s instructions. The judge was correct.

  7. I think this was the right decision, although you’d think that the guy may have a case agaist the owner of the “iced over” sidewalk!

  8. 100% correct! The employee was following the directions of his supervisor for the benefit of the company – good call!
    I frequent WaWa’s on a daily basis and have found them to be extremely safety conscious – both in and outside of the stores. They are quick to attend to spills, snowy/ icy sidewalks, garbage and clutter. While they had no responsibility to maintain the sidewalk where the accident occurred, they bore the responsibility for the resultant injury the minute that employees were instructed to park off premisis.

  9. what if there is not enough parking for the employees and they park off the company property? Walk to work and slip on sidewalk or crossing the street?

  10. Why isn’t anyone responsible for their own actions? The ice was not the employer’s fault, the man slipping was not the employer’s fault, making room for customer parking benefits the employee as well as the employer since it is the customer who pays the employees salary.
    When we will stop punishing the business owners for providing employment?

  11. Good ruling. I agree, 100% correct. Not only do companies should be mindful of customers but employees as well. Hard costly lesson to learn.

  12. I also agree with the verdict. However the “Danger Ice” sign poses a trip hazard or it firces pedestrians tko walk around it on either side and face a greater slip and fall hazard.

  13. Fault is not considered when it comes to compensating for injuries.

    The only deciding factor is if the injury arises from and is in the course of employment. As stated in the article, coming and going to or from work is usually not compensable. Unless, that coming and going is of a benefit to the employe and employer. The instruction to park on the street was a benefit to the employer.

  14. @ Eric maybe you should ask yourself, “What else could the employer had done?”

    I (as a Loss Control Specialist) would have told them to get a specifc (if possible) location and the path back and forth would have to be maintained in a safe waliking manner.

    And BTW, nothing costs businesses more then injuries and accidents. Even if litigation or Comp are not involved you still can’t get away from the indirect costs.

  15. @Al

    The question is not what else the comany could have done, it is did the company do what was reasonable to maintain a workplace free of recognized hazards. That is what they are required to do. They do not control the weather.
    I too am a loss control manager, a Corporate Safety Manager. We can use hind sight all day long to look at what could have been done, but in reality what was done was what the company was required to do, and they did it. Moving forward, sure, learn from the past, make necessary corrections, that still does not place this incident into one that should have required workers compensation. The employee was not engaged in actual work activity, nor was he injured due to a situation created or necessitated by the employer.

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