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Hanik v. Christopher & Banks, Inc. – Courts Wrestle With Compensability of Parking Lot Fall

On Behalf of | Jul 30, 2014 | Atlanta work accident |

In determining whether an injury is covered by workers’ compensation, three general factors are considered: The zone of employment, whether the injury is work-related and the coming-and-going rule.Every state has its own workers’ compensation laws and interpretation of case law regarding what is considered “work-related,” if an employee is coming-and-going and whether the incident occurred within the zone of employment.

With regard to the latter, our Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers recognize typically, the zone of employment is considered to be limited to the facilities, the parking lot and any sidewalks that are owned and/or controlled by the employer. However, this issue is not always a straightforward determination, as evidenced by the recent case of Hanik v. Christopher & Banks, Inc., weighed by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Various courts involved in determining this case wrestled extensively with the question of whether the injuries of a retail employee who fell in a mall parking lot were covered under workers’ compensation. The primary point of contention was what degree of control the company had over the parking lot, and the degree of control the company had over where employees parked.

Even the state supreme court conceded that, “While it seems straightforward, the ALJs, the Board and the appellate courts have struggled with defining where to draw the boundary line of an employer’s operating premises in cases involving parking lot injuries.”

In this case, workers for the business utilized one of two parking lots – the “front lot,” which is generally where customers park, and the “back lot,” where some employees parked with varying regularity and which was generally considered to be a loading zone.

The retail worker in this situation was leaving work after her shift. She walked to her car in the back lot, put her purse on the passenger seat and then walked around to the driver’s side door. As she did so, she slipped and fell on black ice.

The injury was immediately reported, and both she and her supervisor indicated on the forms completed that the incident occurred in the “employee parking lot.”

The problem is that the lot was not technically considered an “employee” lot. There were no signs designating it as such. The mall management never directed workers to park there, with the exception of Christmas week. The worker in this case said when she was hired, she was directed to park there. Other employees of the same business gave varying accounts of where they parked and where they were directed to park. Some said they were never told to park there. Some said they did occasionally, but not because they were told. Others said they were told to do so.

The administrative law judge reviewing the case found the business had no control over the lot where the fall occurred, and as such, the injury did not occur on the business’s operating premises and therefore was no compensable.

That decision was appealed and the finding reversed by a divided board. The review panel held that while the company didn’t control the lot, it did control where employees parked. Further, having employees park in the back lot was beneficial to the company because it reserved prime spots for customers.

The case was appealed to the court of appeals, which sided with the original decision of the ALJ, and further said the board engaged in impermissible fact-finding.

A final appeal was recently heard by the Kentucky Supreme Court, which ultimately affirmed the decision of the appellate court.

The court noted that when considering whether a parking facility is under the purview of a company’s premises, here’s what must be considered:

  • Whether the employer directly or indirectly owns, maintains or controls the parking facility or a portion of it;
  • Whether the employer designated where workers should park;
  • Whether the worker parked in that designated area;
  • Whether the employee’s path to or from his or her car was reasonable.

Here, the business did not own the parking lot. There were no spaces designated for the company or its employees, and no evidence was presented that the business had any influence over maintenance of the lot. Therefore, the court found, the administrative law judge’s finding that the business maintained no control over the lot is backed by the evidence.

In this instance, depending on the severity of injuries, this worker may want to explore a third-party lawsuit against the mall, which unquestionably had control over the maintenance of the lot.

For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-920-4708 .