You Be the Judge

Did Parking Lot Injury Occur in the Course of Employment?

By: | February 27, 2014 • 3 min read
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]

A customer service agent who worked the night shift took her lunch break. The employer had an on-site cafeteria, but it was closed to night-shift employees. Because the agent lived in a neighboring apartment complex, she walked across the employer’s parking lot to eat at home. After eating lunch, she walked back to work. As she entered the employer’s parking lot, she tripped over a curb, hit her shoulder on the bumper of a car, and fell to the pavement. She was transported to the hospital, where she underwent surgery for a broken arm.

The agent sought workers’ compensation benefits, claiming injuries to her hand, arm, shoulder, and knees. The employer denied that her injury arose out of and in the course of employment.

Oklahoma law states that some injuries occurring in the course of employment are not compensable. That includes injuries occurring in “areas under the control of the employer or areas where essential job functions are not performed.”

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The trial court denied compensation. It construed the “essential job functions” portion of the law as excluding coverage for injuries occurring in areas controlled by the employer if the area where the injury occurred was not an area where essential job functions were performed. A three-judge panel affirmed the trial court’s decision. The agent appealed.

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The court explained that the law creates a disjointive test: an injury is not compensable if it occurs in an area not under an employer’s control or in an area where essential job functions are not performed. The trial court’s holding would establish within any area controlled by the employer a zone in which injuries are not covered by workers’ compensation because essential job functions are not performed there. The court explained that the trial court’s interpretation would “lead to incongruous results” and eliminate the exclusive remedy provision.

A is incorrect. The court explained that under the parking lot rule, a worker injured during the time necessary to enter or leave the place of employment is injured in the course of employment and covered by workers’ compensation, unless the injury did not arise out of the employment. The court found that the legislature did not intend to abolish the parking lot rule.

C is incorrect. The court found that the agent arrived at her place of employment and was not on a personal mission when her injury occurred.

How the court ruled: B. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals held that the agent’s injury was compensable. Carney v. DirecTV Group, Inc., No. 111189 (Okla. Civ. App. 01/03/14). The court also concluded that the personal mission exception to the parking lot rule remained intact after the enactment of the new law.

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

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]