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)