An employee applied for workers’ comp benefits after she was injured in a trip-and-fall incident. Doesn’t sound questionable at first, but in this case, the fall happened in a parking garage that wasn’t owned by her employer.
Carol Kloss was a steno clerk for PPL, an electric utility in Allentown, PA.
On Dec. 15, 2009, Kloss finished her work shift, walked across a street to a parking garage, and tripped and fell on her way to the elevator in the facility. She injured her head, right arm and shoulder.
Kloss received three staples to close her head wound and surgery on her right arm.
After the surgery, she continued to have pain in her right arm and shoulder. This continued despite a second surgery and physical therapy.
Kloss said she was unable to return to work because her job involved computer work and she was unable to keep her arm raised long enough to complete her regular duties.
Whether she was able to do her previous job wasn’t the issue, however. The challenge to her workers’ comp application by PPL involved whether she was within the course and scope of her employment when the injury occurred. Specifically, the main question was about the nature of where the injury took place – in a parking garage not owned by PPL.
Company provided parking, didn’t own garage
PPL provided a parking subsidy for its employees who worked in two adjacent buildings.
Employees paid $24 a month, and PPL paid the remainder of the cost of parking at two different garages, neither owned by PPL.
The garage where Kloss parked had about 1,100 spaces. PPL had more than 2,300 employees, so the spaces were provided on a first-come-first-serve basis. There was a waiting list for the garage where Kloss parked, which was also used by a bank and wasn’t open to the public.
PPL owned a skywalk that connected one of its buildings to the garage, and the skywalk was only accessible with a PPL employee ID card. However, there were other entrances to the garage.
PPL didn’t have any responsibilities for the control or maintenance of the parking garage. However, PPL reimbursed the garage’s owner for its proportionate share of the maintenance and operation costs. PPL employees used the majority of spaces in the facility.
Given these facts, a workers’ comp judge (WCJ) concluded Kloss was within the course and scope of her employment with PPL at the time of her injury. PPL appealed to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board which agreed with the WCJ. The Board specified that, under Pennsylvania law, the parking garage should be considered PPL’s premises because it was an integral part of the business.
Next, PPL took its case to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. The company argued the fact that it provided subsidized parking in the garage was immaterial to whether the facility should be considered the employer’s premises.
Pennsylvania courts have held that an employer’s premises aren’t limited to buildings or property controlled, occupied or owned by the employer. Premises can include property that “could be considered an integral part of the employer’s business.” Property becomes integral to an employer’s business when the employer requires employees to use the property.
And there’s the deciding word in this case: requires. True, PPL provided parking in two garages that it didn’t own. However, it also provided a mass transit subsidy to employees – another way they could get to work and not have to use either garage.
For that matter, employees could park their cars somewhere other than the two subsidized garages if they really wanted to.
Taking all this into consideration, the Commonwealth Court overturned the Board’s decision, ruling the parking garage wasn’t so “integral” to PPL’s business that it became part of the company’s premises. Therefore, Kloss’ injury didn’t occur in the course and scope of her employment.
Note: One judge on the three-member court wrote a dissenting opinion, saying he wouldn’t define “premises” so narrowly.
What do you think about the decision in this case? Let us know in the comments.
(PPL v. Kloss, Commonwealth Court of PA, No. 1634 C.D. 2013, 6/11/14)