Employer Defense of Equal Exposure to Fall Danger Outside of Normal Employment Rejected on Worker’s Fall on Parking Lot Next To Work Building

In the recent case of Scholastic, Inc. v. David Viley the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District held that a worker leaving work who fell on a snowy, icy parking lot where his car was parked next to the building the worker worked in was entitled to workers compensation benefits. In the pro-business 2005 amendments to the Missouri Workers Compensation Law Missouri’s legislature limited the circumstances under which an employee leaving work or coming to work could collect workmens compensation benefits for injuries suffered from a fall on the parking lot. These benefits include medical treatment, temporary total (off-work) benefits while unable to work due to his work injuries, and permanent disability money benefits.

Those changes in the Missouri Workers’ Compensation Law provided that: the injured worker was not entitled to any such workman’s compensation benefits unless 1.) the accident that injured him “does not come from a hazard or risk unrelated to the employment to which workers would have been equally exposed outside of and unrelated to the employment in normal nonemployment life,” and 2.) the parking lot or land the accident occurs on either on the way to his car from work or on the way from his work back to his car is either owned or controlled by the employer he was injured while working for.

David Viley left work for the day and on the way back to his car fell and injured his knee on a snowy, icy February day on the parking lot adjacent to the building he worked for his employer in on the way back to his car to go home. He filed a workers compensation claim, which was denied by his employer and their workmen’s compensation insurance company. They argued that the employer neither owned nor controlled the parking lot he fell on and that the worker who fell would have been just as exposed to the risk of falling on ice and snow outside of the parking lot in his non-work life. The administrative law judge who heard the case agreed with the employer and their insurer and held that they owed employee Viley no workers compensation benefits at all for the serious cartilage tear in his knee resulting from his fall accident.

Employee Viley fought back and appealed the administrative law judge’s (ALJ’s) denial of benefits to Missouri’s Industrial & Labor Relations Commission that hears such appeals. The Commission overturned the ALJ’s denial of all workmens comp benefits and awarded them to Mr. Viley. The employer and insurer appealed the Commission’s decision to the Western District Missouri Court of Appeals (because the accident occurred in the Western Missouri town of Moberly), which agreed with the decision of the Commission and awarded injured worker Viley all his Missouri workers compensation benefits.

The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of awarding employee Viley all his workman’s compensation benefits based on two legal findings and conclusions. First, the Missouri Court of Appeals found that based on the lease agreement Viley’s employer Scholastic had with its landlord, his employer had the right to exercise some kind of limited control over the parking lot where the fall occurred that injured him.

Second, the court held that the worker’s fall did not come from “a hazard or risk unrelated to the employment to which [Viley] would have been equally exposed outside of and unrelated to the employment in normal nonemployment life.” Employer Scholastic had argued that Viley faced an equal risk of falling on a similar parking covered with snow and ice off work anywhere else. However, the court of appeals disagreed. It held that it was not the injured worker’s equal exposure to the general risk of falling on snow and ice outside the workplace that counted but instead the employee’s “specific risk or hazard of slipping on that ice in that particular parking lot.” The Missouri Court of Appeals cited similar cases in Missouri.

The Missouri Court of Appeals has thus made it clear that when it comes to a worker’s equal exposure off the work site to the risks and hazards that caused his accidental fall that resulted in his injuries, the hazard that caused the fall— be it slippery ice or snow, a crack, defect or trip hazard in the parking lot where he fell— have to be hazards from the particular work site he fell on that he would have been exposed to while off work in his nonemployment life.

I think such cases as the one discussed above show that employers and their workmen’s compensation insurance companies will fight tooth and nail to deny any employee Missouri workers compensation benefits any time they can for any reason. That is why you always need to hire a good attorney to file your workers compensation claim and fight to enforce your right to workers compensation benefits.

St. Louis Workers Compensation Center can demand and defend your rights to workers compensation benefits. Then they can fight to legally enforce them. Please call us for advice and assistance on any work-related injury suffered on the job in St. Charles County, in St. Louis County, St. Louis City, Lincoln County, Jefferson County, Franklin County, Warren County, or any other counties in eastern Missouri within 100 miles of the greater St. Louis area. All our consultations are absolutely free. Tom Hyatt will talk to you about your case right away and fight for your rights. Our attorney’s fee would be a modest percentage of the Missouri workmen’s comp disability benefits we get for you. Call now for a free consultation.

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