State Worker’s Fall on Parking Lot While on Break was Compensable as Work Injury Because Employer Controlled Lot as Part of its Extended Premises

The case of Beem v. Missouri Department of Social Services was decided by the Western District Missouri Court of Appeals on October 13, 2015.

The worker in this case, Gwendolyn Beem, was working for the Missouri state Department of Social Services (DSS) when she was injured by slipping and falling on an ice-covered parking lot while she was crossing the lot during a work break to get to her car. Her intention was to leave the DSS’s premises where she worked to get into her car and go home to let her dog out.

Until the 2005 amendments to Missouri Workers Compensation Law the law an employee’s fall on a parking lot adjacent to or very near to their workplace would have allowed them to get workers’ compensation benefits, including medical treatment, temporary wage loss substitute pay benefits and permanent disability money benefits. Unfortunately that all changed when the Missouri legislature in major 2005 revisions to the Law tried its best to limit the circumstances under which an employee on the way to their car who falls on a parking lot next to or near their workplace can be entitled to workers compensation benefits.

To get benefits that worker now would have to show 1.) that their fall occurred on premises “owned or controlled by the employer” and “so appropriated by the employer or…so situate[d], designed and used by the employer and his employees incidental to their work as to make them, for all practical intents and purposes, a part and parcel of the employer’s premises and operation,” and 2.) that their fall occurred on “that portion of such premises [which] is a part of the customary, expressly or impliedly approved, permitted, usual and acceptable route or means employed by workers to get to and depart from their places of labor and is being used for such purpose at the time of injury.” I am sorry to have to lay all that legalese mumbo-jumbo on you, but that is what your lawyer would have to prove to a workmen’s comp judge in order to get you any benefits (medical treatment, lost pay or permanent disability benefits) at all from your employer and their workmen’s compensation insurance company.

The sad reality is that employers will almost always try to get over and around having to pay your benefits by claiming that the parking lot you fell and injured yourself on either was not controlled and used by them as part of their work or was not on the usual pathway they had ordered or encouraged their employees to use to get across the parking lot to their cars. If you can’t prove them wrong you get no benefits at all. (I could help you prove them wrong in your own case where the company denies you benefits if the facts are on your side!)

The state of Missouri acted just like any other employer would, fought Ms. Beem and denied her getting any workers comp benefits at all, claiming they didn’t control the parking lot, that the lot wasn’t any part of their operations, and that where Ms. Beem slipped, fell and was injured was not on the usual path to the state workers’ cars that they ordered or encouraged DSS workers to use. The state of Missouri made every argument it could and used every trick in the book to deny its own loyal employee any workers comp benefits at all: no medical treatment, no temporary off-work wage loss substitution for its worker to survive on while getting treatment.

The question the workers compensation administrative law judge who heard the case had to answer was whether the Department of Social Services (DSS) premises extended to the parking lot its employee fell on. The judge looked at DSS’s lease on the parking lot. This lease gave DSS a certain number of parking spaces near to the building DSS worked out of and DSS agreed in the lease to “direct and pay for removal of snow and ice from the sidewalks and parking area” plus to provide and pay for general lawn care.

The lease provision making control by and the responsibility of DSS to maintain the parking lot convinced the judge hearing the case to find that DSS exercised enough control over the lot where Ms. Beem fell and the path she took to get there to make her fall on it a work-related injury. The Missouri Labor Commission that heard the state’s appeal of the judge’s decision agreed with the judge, and when the state appealed the decision finding work-related compensability of her fall on the lot to the Missouri Court of Appeals, the Court of Appeals agree with the judge and the Commission and found for the employee, Ms. Beem. Even though Beem was on break when she fell they all agreed that had she not been at work and then left work to go to her car when she fell on the lot, she would never have been injured in the first place.

I think you can see from my above description of this recently decided case that whether a worker hurt on the job by falling on a parking lot outside of his workplace gets his injuries covered by his employer’s workers compensation insurance depends totally on whether the legal system which hears his claim for compensation, once his employer denies him benefits, finds his employer sufficiently controlled the lot where he fell and the pathway he took through the lot to get to his car. If that were to happen to you, your employer would make you fight to get any workers compensation benefits.

Trying to fight your employer and their workmens comp insurance to get them to give you medical treatment for your injuries, temporary off-work wage loss benefits, and permanent disability benefit money would be next to impossible without getting  hard-fighting attorney to fight for you against the company, its insurance claim adjuster and the lawyers it will hire to fight you tooth and nail to deny you any benefits.

This is true of many other types of workers compensation claims as well. You have to fight them in the legal system or you get no treatment benefits and no money benefits. Employers and their workmen’s comp insurance will deny you all benefits and make you fight for any kind of treatment, lost wages and permanent disability from your accident unless you go out and hire a lawyer to fight for you. You might win or you might lose in the end, but without a hard-fighting attorney you will get no decent benefits for sure.

Another reason a worker injured on the job in a work accident really should consult and hire a lawyer is that even when the company finally sends you out to a doctor for treatment, the doctors they choose for treatment will do everything they can to deny or minimize the worker’s injuries. They will go out of their way to blame any work injuries on pre-existing degeneration (like arthritis) or previous injuries they can find. A good, experienced hard-fighting workers compensation attorney can gather up all the medical treatment records and send the injured worker out for an evaluation by experts who will work in the employee’s interests and enable the injured worker to prove his case to a workmen’s compensation judge. The legal system often makes you work and fight hard just to get any benefits at all.

St. Louis Workers Compensation Center can defend your rights to workers compensation benefits and demand treatment and money benefits. They can help you fight to enforce your legal rights to benefits. They can fight to keep the company from cancelling or underpaying your benefits. Please call Tom Hyatt for advice and assistance on any work-related injury suffered on the job in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, Jefferson County, Franklin County, St. Charles County, Warren County, Lincoln County, or any other counties in eastern Missouri within 125 miles of the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. Our consultations are completely free of charge. Tom Hyatt will talk to you about your case right away. He will fight as hard he can to enforce all of your rights to Missouri workers compensation benefits. Our attorney’s fee would be a modest percentage of the Missouri workers’ comp disability benefits we get for you. Please call now for a free consultation. (See Contact Us).

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