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)