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.

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]