Knee surgery and time away from work were the results of an employee’s fall on an icy parking lot while leaving work. Does he qualify for workers’ comp benefits?
David Viley worked for Scholastic, Inc., in Moberly, MO. On a February evening he was leaving work to go home when he slipped and fell in a parking lot, landing on his knee.
An MRI showed he had a torn meniscus. Viley had to have surgery on the knee. He applied for workers’ comp benefits.
Scholastic denied the claim.
Viley and the company agreed that there were two issues to be settled in this case:
- whether the “extension of premises” provision applied, and
- whether Viley’s injury came from a hazard unrelated to employment to which he would have been equally exposed to in ordinary life.
The extension of premises provision is an exception to the general coming-and-going rule that injuries occurring on the way to or from work aren’t eligible for workers’ comp benefits.
Under the provision, an injury suffered while going to or coming from work is eligible for comp if:
- the injury occurred on premises that are owned or controlled by the employer, and
- “that portion of such premises is a part of the customary, expressly or impliedly approved, permitted, usual and acceptable route or means employed by workers to get to and depart from their places of labor and is being used for such purpose at the time of injury.”
In a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), Viley said that on the day of his injury, the parking lot that he used every work day had snow and ice on it when he arrived at work, and the snow and ice were still there when he left nine hours later. He added that the lot was poorly lit and had been plowed only in “pathways.”
The head of facilities for Scholastic’s Moberly location testified that the company neither owned nor controlled the parking lot where Viley fell.
The ALJ denied Viley’s claim. On appeal, the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission disagreed and awarded compensation. The Commission found Scholastic did control the parking lot and Viley’s injury arose out of an employment hazard that he would not have been equally exposed to off work.
From there, Scholastic took the case to a Missouri appeals court.
Who controlled parking lot?
Scholastic’s argument before the appeals court was that it didn’t “exude sufficient control” over the parking lot.
The company’s lease granted Scholastic “exclusive use for parking” of the lot in question.
The judges on the appeals court noted that exclusive is defined as “limiting or limited to possession, control or use by a single individual or group.”
The court also noted that Scholastic had exercised control over the lot when it:
- ejected non-employees from the lot
- routinely contacted the owner of the lot to request maintenance
- expressed displeasure to the owner of the snowy and icy conditions of the lot, and
- required its safety committee members to report any incidents of unsafe driving on the lot to a company supervisor.
Given those facts and the terms of Scholastic’s lease, the court found the company exercised control over the lot where Viley fell, which satisfied the first part of the “extended premises” test.
But Scholastic had another argument. It said Viley’s injury came from a hazard that he would have been equally exposed to outside of his work.
In effect, Scholastic said Viley faced an equal risk of injury from walking on other snowy or icy surfaces.
The appeals court noted that the Missouri Supreme Court addressed this sort of issue in a case involving an employee who was making coffee in the office kitchen when she turned and slipped off of her sandal, injuring her right hip.
The court denied workers’ comp benefits in the case. The judges explained that the “equal exposure” analysis should focus not on the task the employee was performing, but rather on the underlying risk factor that caused the injury.
In the coffee case, the focus should have been on the employee’s act of falling off her shoe. There was no report of a crack in floor tile or a puddle that caused the employee to fall off her shoe – it just happened. That’s a risk she would have been equally exposed to off the job.
In Viley’s case, he suffered an injury because of an unsafe condition – an icy parking lot. And the court agreed with the Commission’s finding that the hazard wasn’t the snow and ice throughout the community, but was the condition of the specific parking lot.
The appeals court upheld the Commission’s decision and awarded workers’ comp benefits to Viley.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments.
(Scholastic v. David Viley, Missouri Court of Appeals Western District, No. WD77546, 10/28/14)