Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to Win a "Parking Lot" Premises Case

The Extent of the Employer's Business Premises.
In a Claim Petition the Employee bears the burden of establishing all of the necessary elements to support an award of compensation benefits. An injury is compensable only if it is sustained in the course of employment and is causally related thereto. Section 301(c)(1), 77 P.S. 411(1).

A compensable injury may occur when the employee is injured performing duties, in the furtherance of the Employer's business. A compensable injury may occur, as a result of the condition of the work premises.

Generally, injuries which occur while commuting to or from a place of work are not considered to "occur" in the course of one's employment. [ The general rule differs for traveling employees].

A Question may arise, as to When has an Employee "arrived" at the Work Premises?

What is the extent of the Employer's business premises?

Exide Technologies v. WCAB (Acosta), No.469 C.D. 2013, an unreported memorandum opinion of a panel of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, authored by Judge Leavitt on September 18, 2013, addressed the issues regarding the extent of an employer's work premises.

Factual and Procedural Background
Employee was struck by a vehicle while crossing Montrose Avenue, a public street, on his walk from a parking lot to his work place. Employee claimed disability as a result of skull fractures. The Employer argued the employee was not on the Employer's premises, at the time of the accident.

Employee Witness Testimony
2 Co-workers testified about the parking at Employer's business.
The Employer owns 2 parking lots; Lot A and Lot B.
Montrose Avenue runs between the 2 lots.
Lot B is contiguous to the plant.
Parking is also available on the street.

Employee parked at Lot A, as it is closer to the time clock area where he punches in.
Lot B is closer to the area where he picks up his uniform.
Employee must stop at both places before he starts his shift.

WCJ Decision
The Montrose Avenue, a public street, is not integral to the Employer's business premises, as Employee was not required to park at Lot A.

Employee could park in Lot B or on the side of Montrose Avenue, contiguous with the Exide building.
If employee selected one of these two options, he would not need to cross Montrose Avenue to get to work.
[Only the Lot A option necessitated crossing the public street].

WCJ denied the Claim Petition. Employee appealed.
WCAB reversed and awarded benefits. Employer appealed.

Commonwealth Court Decision
Reinstated the WCJ decision, to deny this claim.

Employee is entitled to compensation benefits if he is injured on the employer's premises, at a reasonable time before or after the work shift.

Employee must prove he was:
(a) on the premises occupied or under the control of the employer;
(b) is required to be present there, by the nature of his employment;
(c) sustains an injury, caused by the condition of the premises or caused by operation of the employer's business thereon. See: Newhouse v. WCAB (Harris Cleaning Service), 530 A.2d 545, (Pa. Cmwlth. 1987) and WCAB (Slaugenhaupt) v. United States Steel Corp., 376 A.2d 271 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1977).

HERE, the Employee was crossing a public street, not a land parcel owned and/or controlled by the employer.
End of Analysis?No.

Prior Appellate Decisions have held that an Employer's business premises, is not necessarily limited to buildings or properties controlled, occupied or owned by the employer.

"Premises" may encompass property that could be considered "an integral part of the employer's business". See: Ortt v. WCAB (PPL Services Corp.), 874 A.2d 1264 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005).

"The critical factor is not the employer's title or control over the area, but rather the fact that...[the employer] had caused the area to be used by ... employees in the performance of their assigned tasks.

See: slip opinion page 4, citing: Waronsky v. WCAB (Mellon Bank) 958 A.2d 1118, 1125 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008), citing Epler v. North American Rockwell Corporation, 393 A.2d 1163, 1167 (Pa. 1978).

In Waronsky benefits were denied 
In Epler benefits were awarded.
What is the difference between work comp liability and no liability?

Legal Distinction
In Waronsky the employee was struck by a vehicle while crossing a public street between her employer's office and her employer's parking garage. Her employer did not require employees to park in that garage. [Employer did provide tax incentives for parking there].

In Epler, the employer required employees to park in assigned lots and prohibited on-the-street parking. This control was sufficient to find that the street separating the building and parking lot was integral to the employer's business, as it was the only means of ingree and egress.

HERE, employee was not required  to park in Lot A. Traversing the public street was not part of the employers business premises. When employee was on that public street, he was like any other member of the general public.

1. The outcome in a "Premises" case, is dependant upon the individual facts presented.

Although there are "general rules",  there are several exceptions.
Investigate the facts! Take witness statements, as to exactly where the accident occurred.
Review with the employer, their past practices, rules and requirements.

2.Research the case law, as win/loss is often dependant upon a few distinguishing facts, just like the results in  Epler and Waronsky. 

3. Be Proactive. Advise your employers that they may unknowingly expand their work comp liability, when they impose "rules" regarding mundane issues like employee parking. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.