Worker Injured in Parking Lot Not in Scope and Course of Job, Says Court

We have talked before about the fact that a work injury in PA generally cannot take place during the commute to or from work to be compensable under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act. One area where this issue is frequently tested is when an employee is injured in a parking lot. In this kind of case, one must prove that the injured worker is on the premises occupied or under the control of the employer (or upon which the employer’s business or affairs are being carried on), that he or she is required by
the nature of the employment to be present on the employer’s premises, and that he or she sustains an injury caused by the condition of the premises or by operation of the employer’s business or affairs thereon.

For example, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania recently issued a decision in PPL v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Kloss). Here, the employer offered its employees cheaper parking at one of two parking lots, or offered a similar subsidy for using public transportation. The employer did not own either of the two parking lots, and neither parking lot was restricted to the use of PPL’s employees. The employees of PPL were offered these subsidies, but were not required to accept them, or park in any particular place. Note, however, that PPL did construct a skyway to walk from one of the parking garages to PPL’s building.

The injured worker parked in the garage that had the skyway attached. In fact, she had won a “lottery” at work to get her privileges of parking in that place. One day, while in the garage to go to her car at the end of her day, she tripped over her feet, fell and hurt her right arm and shoulder.

A Claim Petition was filed, and, after hearing the evidence, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted the Petition, finding that the injured worker was within the scope and course of her employment. This was affirmed by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) on appeal.

However, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed. Looking at the elements listed above, the Court found the components were not met. Though the employer need not own, control, or occupy a location to make it “employer’s premises” for this test, the Court noted that a key factor would be that the employer requires employees to use that property. Given the options employees here were given, this part was not met. The fact of the subsidized parking, and the building of the skyway, said the Court, was irrelevant to the evaluation.

Not satisfied, the Court went on to find that the injury was not caused by a condition of the premises, because the injured worker tripped over her own feet. According to the Court, the condition of the premises must in some way contribute to the injury.

It is hard enough for us to make sense of the first part of this decision. After all, the parking garage was mostly used by PPL employees, the garage was not open to the public (the injured worker had to use an access card to gain entry), and, of course, the employer created a special skyway for the use of the garage. To a reasonable mind, these would appear to be indications the employer considered the garage to be its premises. However, it is the second part that seems truly absurd. The injury was caused by the injured worker striking the concrete floor of the garage, which clearly is part of the premises. It is unclear whether the Court presumed the injury was caused by the wind as she fell? There is no suggestion, or any requirement in the law, that there be a defect in the premises, just that the premises caused the injury. Again, the conclusion reached by the Court seems to defy a reasonable interpretation.