Is a fall in a parking lot covered by workers’ comp?

It is a fundamental principle of workers' compensation law that in order for an injury to be covered, it must arise in the course of the employment. When an employee is on the floor of the business and doing the work assigned, the "course of employment" question is pretty much a given. There is a corollary general rule—injuries that occur while commuting do not occur during the course of employment. But as with any general rule, there are grey areas and exceptions. A 2014 case recently decided by a Pennsylvania court is instructive: Kruge v. W.C.A.B. (Lehigh Valley Technologies).

Facts of Kruge

The claimant worked in the maintenance department for a company with around 30 full-time employees and 15 part-time employees. The company provided a parking lot in front of the plant, but it could only accommodate 15 cars. The company also leased office space in a multi-story building across the street and, as part of the lease, had access to 10 parking spaces. The spaces were not assigned nor were they designated in any way. It was in this lot that the claimant regularly used to park. One winter day, after he had parked his car and was walking to the plant across the street, the claimant slipped on a patch of ice, fell and seriously injured himself. He brought a workers' compensation claim alleging that he was "in the course" of his employment when he fell.

The company's chief financial officer testified that he had an office in the multi-story building, that he travelled back and forth to the plant on a regular basis and that employees did the same. He further testified that employees were not given any instructions on where to park.

Decision of Kruge and crucial lack of evidence

The court recognized that previous Pennsylvania court decisions found that an employer's "premises" is not restricted to property or buildings controlled, occupied, or owned by the employer and can encompass other property if it is considered integral to the business. The critical factor is not whether the employer has title or control of an area, but whether the employer causes that area to be used by employees in the performance of their assigned tasks. Aside from the question of whether the parking lot was integral to the company's business in this case, the court found that employee had not fallen in this lot where he parked, but, rather, fell on a concrete ramp in an adjoining lot and the employee had presented no evidence that employees regularly used that route to get from the parking lot to the plant. Because of that lack of evidence, the court concluded that the injury did not occur in the course of employment.

As this case illustrates, the law in the circumstance of an injury off the actual workplace can be complex and presenting sufficient and relevant evidence is critical. Anyone who has suffered such an injury should seek the representation of a Pennsylvania attorney experienced in workers' compensation cases.