Now Reading
Ingress and egress

American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, 2022-05-01, Volume 161, Issue 5, Pages 746-747, Copyright © 2021 American Association of Orthodontists

During work, an employee is injured in your office; are you responsible? An employee is injured on her commute to or from the office; are you responsible? An employee, leaving work, is injured in the parking lot used by the office personnel; are you responsible? The answers are yes, no, and maybe. Smith v Camarena , 835 SE 2d (Ga. Ct. App., 2019) provides us with some insight.

Upon leaving work at a grocery store, the employee clocked out and went to her car that was located in the parking lot of the strip mall where the store was located. She stopped to speak with another coworker who was sitting in a nearby car with her husband. At that point, masked gunmen attempted to rob all 3 people. Just as this was happening, the store manager drove by and seeing what was going on, attempted to intercede by drawing his own weapon. When the shootout at the OK Corral was over, the employee had sustained a fatal gunshot wound.

Her estate sued the owners of the strip mall and the owner of the grocery store for negligence, claiming a lack of security in the parking lot. The owner of the grocery store raised the defense that the employee’s injuries occurred during her employment; therefore any financial compensation she was owed was limited by law under the relevant Workman’s Compensation Act, and he asked for a directed verdict on this point of law. The trial court agreed, finding that the employee was at work at the time, and granted a directed verdict in favor of the grocery store owner. The employee’s estate appealed, arguing that summary judgment was inappropriate as certain facts were in dispute. The factual issue to be determined was whether or not the employee’s death occurred while she was at work. If it was determined that the employee was working at the time of the shooting, then any injury sustained would be compensable under the Act. But if the employee was found to be not working at the time, and the case were turned over for trial, then a finding by the jury that the grocery store owner was negligent in maintaining security for the lot might result in a much larger award.

The court noted that “…an injury is compensable under the act only if it arises out of and in the course of the employment.” Therefore, because the court had to look at these 2 fact-based requisites, a summary judgment in the grocery store owner’s favor was inappropriate. Both sides admitted to the “arising out of” requirement; so the only facts to be decided involved the “in the course of” requirement. The facts revealed that the grocery owner did not own, maintain, or control the parking lot. His business was one of many in the strip mall, all of which used the common parking lot open to the public.

The court defined the “in the course of” requirement as referring to the time, the place, and the circumstances under which the event took place. Further refining the legally accepted underpinnings of this requirement, the court stated that the injury must occur “…within the period of employment at a place where the employee reasonably may be in the performance of his duties while he is fulfilling his duties or engaged in something incidental thereto.” Going further, the court noted that the limitation relating to this requirement is that an injury is not compensable if it occurs “…during a time when the employee is off duty and is free to do as he or she pleases and when the employee is not performing any job duties… .”

Neither party disputed that the employee was not working when the shooting occurred; however, the owner of the grocery store argued that the employee’s injury was covered under the Act because of the “ingress/egress” exception. The court, citing various other cases, noted that this rule of law provides that:

…the period of employment generally includes a reasonable time for ingress to and egress from the place of work, while on the employer’s premises. For purposes of this rule, the employer’s premises means “real property owned, maintained, or controlled by the employer.” So “when an employee is injured in, or going to and from, a parking lot which is owned or maintained by the employer, the incident is compensable under Workers’ Compensation since the injury arose during the employee’s ingress or egress from employment.” But it “does not extend so far as to allow coverage … for an injury which occurred in a public parking lot that was neither owned, controlled, nor maintained by the employer.” (Cits. Omit.)

See Also

The summary judgment in favor of the grocery store owner was reversed, and a trial was ordered.

Commentary

So what does this mean for us? Let us say you own or lease a freestanding office building with its own parking lot. If you own, control, or are responsible for maintaining the parking lot, which would be the case, then the ingress/egress rule would apply to you. What that means is that employees are granted a reasonable amount of time to get out of or into their cars when entering or leaving the office; and they are deemed to be “on the clock” while doing so. However, before pulling into the lot or once they leave the lot and hit the street, the employer is off the hook for any injuries that may befall them unless they happen to be engaged in a business related errand.

However, this issue becomes more muddled if it is a public lot that serves a number of business establishments. In that instance, as a general rule, the business owner, that is, you, would not be responsible, but that does not prevent you from undertaking the potential for liability exposure if you choose to. How? Suppose you make an arrangement with the owner of the strip mall to have a section of the lot blocked off and dedicated to your business. In this scenario, a section of the parking lot is restricted by signage stating that parking is reserved for the patients and staff of Dr Straightens M. Goode. You now certainly control, and possibly are responsible to maintain, to whatever degree you and the building owner have agreed to, that section of the parking lot. In other words, you have increased your sphere of operations to your potential detriment.

Maybe you want that, maybe you do not. But hey, you now have dedicated parking. Hope it is worth the undertaking.