Safety and OSHA News

Employee trips in employer’s parking lot: Workers’ comp for injury?

After parking his personal vehicle in his employer’s parking lot, an employee trips over a cement parking block. He tears a ligament and is out of work for a while. Can he get workers’ comp?

Christopher Snyder was a police officer for the City of Richmond, VA, police department.

On July 4, 2011, he arrived at work and parked his car in the employee lot. He was required to park there for security reasons because the police precinct is in a high-crime area.

Snyder was carrying his duty belt over his shoulder which contained his loaded gun among other things. While walking, he saw a colleague. Snyder talked with the other officer about being unhappy that he had to work a special shift on July 4th.

While walking and talking with the other officer, Snyder’s right foot clipped a cement parking block that was secured to the ground about a foot and a half from a brick retaining wall. Snyder fell forward, striking the edge of the brick wall with his right knee. He suffered a ligament tear which required surgery.

Snyder sought temporary total disability benefits from July 5 to Oct. 2, 2011, and continuing temporary partial disability benefits after that.

A hearing commissioner of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission denied Snyder’s claim on the grounds that his injury didn’t arise out of risk of employment. The full commission affirmed the decision. Snyder took his case to a state appeals’ court.

Employment or everyday risk?

Snyder argued that his injury did arise out of employment because:

  • he was speaking with the other officer about work-related matters
  • the cement parking block was irregularly situated on the ground, and
  • he was trying to protect the loaded gun in his duty belt from firing when he fell.

Virginia uses an “actual risk” doctrine as a test in workers’ comp cases. That test “excludes an injury which comes from a hazard to which the employee would have been equally exposed” if he wasn’t at work.

After applying the risk test to Snyder’s case, the appeals court decided his injury didn’t arise out of his employment.

The court’s reasons: His risk of tripping over the curb in the parking lot wasn’t caused by his employment, “but rather presented an equal risk to any person walking inattentively in the parking lot.” The distraction (talking to another officer) wasn’t related to his job responsibilities (as the police department argued, Snyder was just complaining about having to work on a holiday). The fact the parking lot was located at the workplace didn’t create a causal relationship. Snyder admitted the placement of the parking block in the lot wasn’t irregular — it was just strange it was placed so close to the brick wall. And the position of Snyder’s duty belt at the time of the fall wasn’t the origin of the injury.

For all those reasons, the appeals court affirmed the original decision: This wasn’t work-related, so no workers’ comp benefits for Snyder.

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

(Snyder v. City of Richmond Police Dept., Court of Appeals of VA, No. 0187-13-2, 10/15/13)

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  • Kate

    If it was an employee parking lot that he was required to park in and only employees could park there then I believe that his injury at the very least had a casual relationship to his employment. Would he park in that parking lot if he wasn’t employed or not at work?
    Virginia’s “actual risk” excludes an injury which comes from a hazard to which the employee would have been equally exposed” if he wasn’t at work. There are cement blocks in other parking lots but he tripped over this one because he was going to work and parking in the parking lot that is required by the employer.
    I’m not a lawyer, but I think Mr. Snyder needs a better lawyer.

    • Jan

      If he tripped because of his own stupidity it shouldn’t be workers comp, its what we can an Idiopathic claim and should be denied by WC

  • Lawrence

    I agree with Kate, the fact that it was an employee parking lot and his only reason for being there was employment the relationship seems to be established

    • charlie

      if he had tripped in his driveway while PREPARING to come to work on a holiday, no one would consider it compensable. However, the Police Department’s liability insurance is liable for his medical expenses, but not workers comp

    • VJ

      I wrote above about the geograpic presumption. Just being at a jobsite is not enough to establish that the injury came “in the course of, and within the scope of employment”. Those are the requirements here in Texas and a lot of other states. If they were in that same parking lot and the guy was allergic to peanuts, yet ate a peanut butter cookie, would you pay him workers comp?

  • VJ

    This is interesting because my company, at the time, had a similar incident. Our client had a hard rule about recordable injuries and just one was enough to get us removed from the site. One of our employees tripped, fell, and fractured a body part. While helping with the investigation I came across and interpretation letter in the 1904.7 standard speaking directly to this “geographic presumption”, the idea that just because it happens on a job site, it’s work related.

    ” I am concerned that this response and OSHA’s training materials impart an erroneous view of the so-called geographic presumption. Unfortunate events which occur to an individual while he is at work and engaged in normal life functions, such as walking over an even surface and pulling a muscle, should not be presumed to be work-related simply because they occur at work. Absent some other identifiable work-related event or exposure in the work environment, such a conclusion clearly conflicts with the “discernable cause” rule” -Joseph Woodward, Esq.
    Associate Solicitor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration

    Now this doesn’t have anything to do with workers comp, but I think it makes sense.

  • Joe

    There are many far reaching incidents where employees have received coverage from worker’s comp outside the normal course of their job. One that comes to mind is an employee that was required to attend a cocktail party outside her normal hours of employment. During the course of the party she had a few alcoholic beverages and consequently tripped and was injured while walking to her car. She was awarded worker’s compensation because she was required to attend the party and partake in the activities within. Along the same lines of the Officer being required to park in a certain parking lot due to the high crime rate in the area (which is ironic since the police department is there). With that said, the Officer should receive compensation under these similar circumstances. In my opinion, every person should be responsible for themselves. In other words, just because you are required to do something by your employer doesn’t mean you can turn off your common sense or your ability to pay attention and blame someone else.

  • Catch22!

    Unfortunately, I live/work in a state where this would be a compensable injury. We have to cover the employee from the time they get out of their car until they leave in it again. Heck. I have paid for three serious injuries from employees talking on their phones and walking. One ran into a light pole and broke his nose, one stepped off the sidewalk and broke her ankle and the other ran into another employee causing her to fall and injur her sholder.
    Wish my state had a rule like this one.

  • Darbonne

    Good call by the judge. Walking and talking coming to work does not entitle you WC benefits. What if he would have slammed his finger in his door? Would you still want to award benefits? Common sense says no.

  • Katee

    The employee was on employer property because the employee had to be at work. Therefore, ti should be worker’s comp. It should not matter if employee tripped in the parking lot or tripped in a building.