You Be the Judge

Is Injury on Public Street Covered by Workers’ Comp?

The court considers whether an off-premises injury occurred within the course of employment.
By: | December 9, 2016 • 3 min read

A French and Spanish professor for the University of South Carolina was reviewing resumes in the library on behalf of a search committee looking to hire a new professor.

She left the library when it closed. To reach her car, which was in a university lot provided for faculty and student parking, she had to cross a public street. While crossing the street, the professor was struck by a vehicle and injured.

The street and crosswalks were not owned or controlled by the university but were maintained and controlled by the city. Both the library and the parking lot belonged to the university.

The professor sought workers’ compensation benefits. The university’s insurer, State Accident Fund, denied the claim on the basis that the professor was injured away from the university’s property.

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The professor appealed, and the Court of Appeals held that her injuries did not arise out of and in the course of employment. The professor appealed.

Was the commission correct in finding that the professor’s injury was not compensable?

  • A. No. The professor was injured attempting to leave the university’s premises by traveling a direct route from the library to her car in a parking lot provided for employee and student parking.
  • B. Yes. The professor was not on the university’s property when she was injured.
  • C. Yes. The professor was not required to use the parking lot across the street from the library.

How the Court Ruled

B is incorrect. The court found no justification to deny compensation just because the accident occurred while the professor was crossing a public road. The professor was injured traveling between two portions of the university’s premises as anticipated at the end of her workday, so her injuries were compensable.

C is incorrect. The court found it relevant that the university allowed the professor to park in the lot across the street from the library, and once she did, the necessity of crossing the public street arose.

The university could not avail itself of the benefits that came from providing its employees a place to park and then disclaim responsibility for the consequences of that decision.

A is correct. In Davaut v. University of South Carolina, No. 27673 (S.C. 10/26/16), the South Carolina Supreme Court held that the professor’s injury was compensable, as her injury arose out of and in the course of her employment.

The court held that workers who must cross a public way that bisects an employer’s premises and who are injured on that public way while traveling a direct route between an employer’s facility and parking lot are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

The court rejected the university’s argument that the adoption of the divided premises rule would be unworkable. The university asserted that under this rule a worker injured while traveling between two portions of an employer’s premises will be compensable regardless of the reason for the travel or the route taken by the worker.

The court explained that a worker must still be injured in the performance of her employment “duties and while fulfilling those duties or engaged in something incidental thereto.”

Editor’s note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.

Christina Lumbreras is a Legal Editor for Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]