Sure, it’s July, so ice isn’t the first thing on our minds here in North Carolina. But the case of Bober v. Oklahoma State University is worth examining for the simple fact that employers and insurers will seek any opportunity to deny benefits – no matter what the season.
It’s important that workers understand their rights.
According to court records in the case, plaintiff was a teacher at the school’s childcare facility. Given a parking permit by the school, she was required to park in a specific lot each day when she arrived for work.
One winter morning in 2014, she arrived for work and stepped onto a curb that was reportedly covered with ice. As a result, she slipped and fell.
She suffered injuries as a result of that fall and filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
She argued that because she was on her employer’s property and was acting in the course and scope of employment, her injuries should be covered.
However, the university denied benefits, arguing the injury didn’t occur in the course and scope of employment. The school cited the “coming-and-going” rule, which generally holds that employees can’t claim workers’ compensation benefits for injuries incurred while they are coming to or leaving from their place of employment.
An administrative law judge considering the case sided with the employer, finding the injury here didn’t happen in the course and scope of employment. That ruling was affirmed by the state commission, but then reversed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling.
Her actions at the time of her injury, her employer opined, were related to and in the furtherance of the business. Furthermore, the injury happened on her employer’s premises.
Interestingly, Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation law excludes benefits for injury that happens in a parking lot or other common area that is near the employer’s place of business, assuming it happens before the employee clocks in or starts their workday. However, the exception didn’t apply in this case, the court ruled, because there was no contention the worker was on university property at the time of the slip-and-fall accident.
The three dissenting justices argued the coming-and-going rule should have nonetheless prohibited plaintiff from prevailing.
Whether an employee slip-and-fall on ice is covered by workers’ compensation will depend on a myriad of factors. The primary question will be whether the worker was acting in the course and scope of employment. So a worker traveling between job sites during the work day would be considered acting in the course and scope of employment. Injury that happens in an employer parking lot will usually be compensated – even if it’s during the normal commute and sometimes while on break.
However, if a parking lot isn’t owned by the employer, that could be a different story.
And there are always exceptions. Consider the 2011 Pennsylvania case of Wawa v. Rodgers, where an employee of a gas station asked to park in a separate lot to maximize space for customers was injured in an ice slip-and-fall in a lot not owned by employers. The court ruled that because the worker was furthering the interests of the business – i.e., making more room for customer parking – his injury was compensable.
If you’re injured at work, we can help.
Contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Bober v. Oklahoma State University , June 28, 2016, Oklahoma Supreme Court
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TIC Energy & Chem, Inc. v. Martin – Exclusive Remedy, Contractors and Co-Workers, June 30, 2016, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog