State supreme court justices in Kentucky reversed three lower courts in finding worker injured in a vehicle accident while crossing the street to access a fast-food restaurant adjacent to her office was not entitled to collect workers’ compensation for her injuries.The court determined the worker was not acting in the course and scope of employment because she undertook the route in “in order to seek personal comfort.” In so doing, the court found, she exposed herself to a hazard that was not only totally removed form the typical day-to-day coming-and-going activity, but it was also illegal per state law (she was jaywalking) and thus impliedly barred by the company.
The ruling in US Bank Home Mortgage v. Schrecker underscores once again how difficult it can be to secure workers’ compensation payments when a worker leaves the traditional office setting. Work-related car accidents may be compensable, but one must prove he or she was acting in the course or scope of employment.
Our Atlanta work injury attorneys know this can be especially difficult when the worker in question does not travel as part of his or her daily job. Still, there may be many legal nuances in cases like this, so it’s always worthwhile to have your case closely examined by an experienced work injury lawyer.
Here, according to court records, plaintiff was employed by a bank in the payment processing department. The bank branch was located on a busy, four-lane street with a traffic island that divided the north and south lanes.
As a full-time worker, plaintiff was granted one hour unpaid for lunch every day, as well as two, 15-minute breaks daily. There was no onsite cafeteria, but there was a vending machine and lunchroom for use by employees. However, workers were allowed and many opted to leave the site during their lunch break to retrieve food at nearby restaurants.
On the day in question, one of plaintiff’s co-workers was absent, so plaintiff decided to work through her lunch break. Later, around 1:30 p.m., plaintiff signed out for a paid afternoon break with the intention of crossing the street to get some food and return to work.
At the point where plaintiff crossed the street, between two intersections, there was no crosswalk. One driver waved for her to cross. However, another driver traveling the same direction in a different lane did not see her and struck her. She was treated for her injuries (to her back, chest, shoulder, knee and calf) and later returned to work. She would later assert traumatic brain injury as well, which she attributed to causing concentration difficulty, sleep disturbances, depression, memory loss and headaches.
In seeking workers’ compensation for her injuries, plaintiff stressed there was employer-generated pressure for her to skip her lunch break, which meant she had to quickly grab food from across the street. However, while she did not take her lunch break at the usual time, there was nothing to indicate she could not have taken her break at a later time. In fact, many employees testified there was no set lunch time. Additionally, there was testimony the supervisor told workers they were always entitled to a lunch break. The worker also testified she routinely (between three and five days weekly) took a three-minute trip across the street to grab food during her afternoon break.
For this reason, the high court ruled the assertion of “employer-generated pressure” was not one supported by the facts on record.
This was in spite of an administrative law judge’s findings – later supported by both the state board and an appeals court – that the injury was compensable and worker’s permanent impairment rating was 15 percent.
To support the finding the injury did not occur in the course and scope of employment, the company argued:
- Worker was not on the operating premises when injury occurred
- Worker temporarily abandoned her job
- In so doing, worker lost any protection she may have had by virtue of the “personal comfort doctrine” in taking an “unreasonable” route to get from the bank to the fast-food restaurant.
The state high court agreed, and reversed the lower court’s finding of benefit awards.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.