In the past few months, I've been asked more than once to explain whether an employee who experiences an injury, while coming to or leaving work, can file a workers compensation claim. Caring employers obviously never want their employees to have an injury at any time. However these same caring employers need to know the answer to this "commuting" question to protect themselves from unnecessary work comp expenses. How do you know when work comp covers parking lot falls?
Historically, it's been a very gray area on whether an employee has a work-related claim when he is coming to or leaving work and is injured. To make the call, courts want to know whether the injury was "arising out of and in the course of" employment. (Please be aware that this blog post will cover Michigan law; consult a legal advisor in your own state for local specifics.)
The most recent legal guidance in Michigan on this tricky question comes from a Michigan Supreme Court decision from 2013. The case was Mohney v American International Group.
In this case, Loren Mohney fell and was injured while walking from the "company" parking lot to the adjacent building where his employer, AIG, leased office space. The parking lot where Mohney fell actually was public parking and not owned by AIG. The litigated issue was whether the injury rose out of and in the course of his employment. Existing legal precedent says work comp protection extends to a parking lot injury if the injury occurs while the claimant is traveling between a parking area owned, leased, or maintained by the employer and the worksite, even if the injury is not on premises.
So here's what happened to the case: The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the award of work comp benefits to Mohney. The case also was remanded to the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission for a second opinion. (The commission resolves appeals of decisions involving work comp awards.)
The MCAC found the Mohney's injury arose out of and in the course of his employment. The commission's opinion was based on the lease agreement between AIG (Mohney's employer) and the building/property owner, who (in addition to office space) owned the public parking lot parking lot used by AIG's employees and customers.
This case then took an interesting twist. Despite alignment from both the Court of Appeals and the MCAC on awarding Mohney work comp benefits, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals ruling which gave Mohney work comp benefits. In the opinion of the Supreme Court, because Mohney fell in a parking lot that his employer did not "own, lease, or maintain," work comp coverage established in a previous legal case (Simkins v General Motors, if you're interested), is not applicable.
Here's an excerpt from the Supreme Court's reversal:
"Simkins held that [Michigan work comp law], which provides that an "employee going to or from his or her work, while on the premises where the employee's work is to be performed . . . is presumed to be in the course of his or her employment," is applicable to the situation in which such employee is injured on property "owned, leased, or maintained by his employer," as long as he was "traveling in a reasonably direct route between the parking area owned, leased, or maintained by the employer and the work-site . . . ." (Emphasis added.) Whatever the merits of Simkins, we reject the extension of Simkins to the present circumstances. There was simply no "ownership, lease, or maintenance" of the parking lot by the employer."
The bottom line is that courts want to know whether the area where an employee injury occurred was owned, leased, or maintained by an employer. As you can see from the Mohney case, the employer "ownership" question was the determining factor in whether the injury was work related and whether work comp benefits were required.
How do you feel about this ruling on work comp and parking lot falls?? What other sticky work comp questions do you have? Sound off in comments, and we'll consider your inquiries for future blog posts!
DISCLAIMER: We hope this blog post gave you an "Aha!" moment, but please don't hold it as legal or tax advice. This information is general in nature, and your specific situation deserves attention from a dedicated legal or tax advisor. What's more, this information is specific to the state of Michigan. Contact an expert in your area for the best guidance.