Safety and OSHA News

Struck by car on public street: Can she get workers’ comp?

An employee was leaving for the day and crossed a public street from her employer’s building to a parking lot provided for workers. She was struck by a car on the street. Can she get workers’ comp? 

Nathalie Davaut was a professor at the University of South Carolina (USC) Lancaster. One day she was reviewing résumés in the USC library on behalf of a search committee looking to hire a new professor. The résumés were kept on file at the library.

Davaut left the library. Her car was in a university parking lot provided for faculty and students. To get to her car, Davaut had to cross a public street which runs through the USC campus.

While crossing the street, Davaut was struck by a vehicle and injured.

The street and crosswalks are maintained and controlled by the City of Lancaster. USC owns the library and the parking lot.

Davaut applied for workers’ comp benefits.

USC relied on the going-and-coming rule to deny the claim.

A workers’ comp commissioner agreed with USC and denied Davaut’s claim. The full Workers’ Compensation Commission and then a state appeals court upheld the decision.

Recently, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a decision in Davaut’s appeal.

Divided premises rule

Davaut argued that it was incorrect to use the going-and-coming rule to decide her case and instead, the court should use the divided premises rule (some courts refer to this as the parking lot exception). The court agreed.

The divided premises rule says compensation is almost always awarded to employees injured while traveling along or across a public road between two portions of the employer’s premises.

Applying the divided premises rule in Davaut’s case, the South Carolina Supreme Court found Davaut’s injuries were compensable.

The court noted Davaut was injured attempting to leave her employer’s premises while traveling a direct route from the library, where she had been reviewing résumés for USC, to her car which was in an on-campus parking lot.

“In short, because [Davaut] was injured traveling between two portions of her employer’s premises – the library and the parking lot – as anticipated at the end of her work day, her injuries are compensable, [even though] she was injured while she was not physically on USC’s property,” the court wrote.

USC argued that Davaut’s claim was similar to a previously decided case in which an employee was injured in a crosswalk that connected the employer’s building with a company-maintained parking lot.

However, the employee in the previous case wasn’t going from the parking lot to the building when she was injured. She’d been dropped off by her husband and exited the car directly onto the public street, where she was struck.

Because the employee had never entered the parking area that was maintained by the employer before she was injured, her injury wasn’t compensable.

Thus, the South Carolina Supreme Court found, the two cases were different situations, and Davout should receive comp benefits.

The recent opinion came with one reminder from the state’s high court:

“Nothing in today’s opinion removes the requirement that for an employee’s injuries to be compensable, the employee must be injured in the performance of his employment duties and while fulfilling those duties or engaged in something incidental thereto.”

(Nathalie I. Davaut v. University of South Carolina, South Carolina Supreme Court, No. 2015-001218, 10/26/16)

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