An employer may be located on 123 Main St., and an employee’s shift may begin at 8 a.m., but an injury occurring at 7:50 a.m. a few feet outside of the entrance to the facility could constitute an industrial injury if certain criteria are satisfied.
The apparent paradox involving injuries occurring outside of working hours and outside of an employer’s facility presents challenges for defendants in evaluating exposure. The Workers' Compensation Appeals Board has promulgated somewhat vague and nebulous rules concerning these types of injuries, which fall under the “premise line rule."
In the recent case of Jones v The Regents of the University of California, the Court of Appeal affirmed defendant’s motion for summary judgment and held that the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy rule barred an applicant’s claim for a bicycle injury while traveling home from work.
In Jones, the accident occurred at the end of the employee’s workday when she exited her office at the science library, walked a short distance with her bike to a bike path, mounted her bike and began riding home. She was still on campus when the injury occurred, and after riding for about 10 seconds, she reached a trench surrounded by caution tape and posts. She swerved and attempted to brake but fell off of her bike and sustained injuries.
Jones sued the university, alleging negligence and premises liability. The university filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that the injuries occurred within the course of her employment and that the workers’ compensation exclusivity rule barred a civil negligence action. The motion was granted by the trial court, which found that the injury was industrial, based on the premises line rule. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision.
The premise line rule is a subset of the judicially created “going-and-coming” rule, which bars injuries sustained during a commute to and from work from being industrial. The courts determined that an employee’s commute terminates and the course of employment begins only when the employee enters the employer’s premises.
After entry, injury is generally presumed compensable as arising in the course of employment. Conversely, once the employee leaves the premises, injuries sustained during the commute home are generally noncompensable.
Further evaluating when employment commences, the employee’s travel between his workstation and the point of entry to the employer’s premises is a reasonable margin of time and space that constitutes the employer’s premises. In other words, there is not a sharp, hard-line rule as to when and where employment begins, but rather employees are covered under workers’ compensation during a reasonable distance and time before and after leaving the employer’s premises.
In Jones, summary judgment was affirmed because the injuries occurred on the university’s campus, which was undisputedly owned by the university, immediately after she left her workstation.
The court cited Smith v. Industrial Accident Commission (1941) 18 Cal.2d 843. In that case, an injury that occurred while traveling to a ferry terminal on the way home from work was deemed industrial because the entire island (which was several hundred acres) was all under the employer’s control. Although the ferry was not operated or controlled by the employer, the premises line rule supported the conclusion that the injury was industrial.
In Jones, like Smith, the employee was leaving work rather than arriving. Similarly, both employees traveled using the means of their own choice on roads used by non-employees as well as employees. Finally, the employer’s premises were expansive. The trial court correctly applied an objective and fair boundary to where the employer’s premises began. They were not required to draw a sharp line.
The Smith case illustrates the importance of evaluating both the physical area where an injury occurs as well as the time of the injury. Claims examiners should not immediately conclude that an injury is compensable or noncompensable based on the physical location where it occurred.
Some injuries that occur outside of the employer’s facility may be industrial — for example, where the employees are required to pass through a public point of ingress or egress to the facility. Similarly, the accepted customs or habits of employees and employers may result in a broadening of the employer’s premises. For example, an employer that allows employees to congregate outside of the facility may be held liable when an injury occurs before the facility is opened.
Similarly, an injury may not be industrial if an employee unreasonably loiters after his or her workday is completed and is expected to leave. What is reasonable must be determined by the expectations of the employer but are often provided in employee handbooks and other training materials.
While the premises rule is a judicially created subset of the going-and-coming rule and is therefore inherently nebulous and difficult to define, it is important to remember that industrial injuries may occur outside of the workplace and outside of work time. In the early stages of evaluating questionable claims, defendants should carefully review witness statements, employee training materials and the habits and customs of both employees and employers.
A site inspection to determine the physical location of the employer’s facility may also be beneficial. Taken together, these tools can assist the insurer in determining compensability when injuries occur outside of the employer’s premises.
Michael Burns is a partner at Bradford & Barthel’s San Jose location. This entry from Bradford & Barthel's blog appears with permission.
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