The South Carolina Supreme Court has issued an important workers’ compensation decision that will affect employees injured while traveling from one portion of an employer’s property to another, even if that reasonably necessary and direct route involves property that belongs to a third party.
The case is Davaut v. Univ. of So. Carolina. Central to this matter was the “coming-and-going” rule, which generally precludes workers’ compensation benefits for workers who are injured while traveling to and from work. However, there have been exceptions when workers are injured on employer property, such as parking lots.
In the Davaut case, the state adopts the so-called “divided premises” rule, which holds that employees traveling from one part of an employer’s property to another over a direct and reasonably necessary route are acting in the course of employment for workers’ compensation purposes.
According to court records, the plaintiff worked as an English and Spanish professor at the university, located in Lancaster, in 2012 when she suffered a fall as she was walking to her vehicle after work. She’d been reviewing resumes in the library for a search committee, since the school was looking to hire a new Spanish language professor. She left the library, where the resumes had been on reserve, when the facility closed at 9 p.m. In order to get to her vehicle, parked in a university faculty and student lot, the plaintiff had to cross a street maintained by the city. That street bisects the campus. However, both the library and the parking lot were owned and maintained by the plaintiff’s employer, the school.
As the plaintiff crossed the street, she was struck by a vehicle and suffered injuries.
The plaintiff then sought workers’ compensation benefits from her employer and its insurer. The university, citing the coming-and-going rule, denied that the plaintiff’s injuries were compensable under South Carolina’s workers’ compensation law.
A single commissioner backed the school, relying on the 1987 precedent set in Howell v. Pacific Columbia Mills, which held a millworker’s injury wasn’t compensable when she was struck by a vehicle while crossing a public street in a crosswalk that connected her employer-maintained parking lot with one of the company’s main entrances. The commissioner ruled that since the plaintiff’s injuries happened on a public street over which her employer had no control, her injuries weren’t compensable either.
Upon review, the commission panel heard the plaintiff’s argument that Howell wasn’t controlling because the worker in question hadn’t reached her employer’s premises before she got hurt. The plaintiff argued she had already reached her employer’s property, and what’s more, she hadn’t yet left her employer’s premises because the street, while not technically campus-owned, was so close in relation as to have the practical effect of being a part of campus.
The panel nonetheless affirmed, as did the appeals court.
The state supreme court reversed. The justices ruled the appellate court erred in relying on the coming-and-going rule, and the plaintiff did in fact suffer a compensable injury because, unlike in Howell, the plaintiff had already reached her employer’s property and was traveling from one part of the employer’s premises to another. The court agreed that under these circumstances, workers should be entitled to disability benefits, and therefore it joined the majority of other jurisdictions that have adopted the divided premises rule.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Davaut v. Univ. of So. Carolina, Oct. 26, 2016, South Carolina Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Kirkman v. North Carolina Dept. of Public Safety – Injury During On-the-Job Training, Oct. 28, 2016, Rock Hill Injury Lawyer Blog