A Walk in the Park-ing lot: A simple Examination of egress/ingress
By: Emily Truitt
If an employee becomes injured inside of a warehouse — and we can assume she was acting within her job duties, at a time and place she should have been — absent another defense, the claim is generally compensable. But what if all the circumstances remained the same, except the employee’s injury occurred in the parking lot outside?
In Georgia, it is generally true that an employee is not acting within the course of her employment when traveling to and from work. Despite this general rule, the courts created a niche “ingress and egress rule” that provides an exception of sorts. It states if an employee is injured “while still on the employer’s premises in the act of going to or coming from her workplace” she remains within the course of her employment and is therefore covered by the Act. Hill v. Omni Hotel at CNN Ctr., 268 Ga. App. 144, 147 (2004). This rule is predicated on the rationale that until the employee “has departed the premises, she has not started traveling a route of her choosing wholly disconnected with the employment.” Id. The parking lot rule is an extension of the ingress and egress rule, which allows compensation where an employee is injured in, going to or coming from a parking lot that is owned or maintained by the employer. Thus, the parking lot rule, in effect, extends the employer’s premises to include parking lots that are owned, maintained and controlled by the employer. Id.
Therefore, the first inquiry when assessing a parking lot case is to ask whether the employer owned, controlled or maintained the premises. We learned in City of Atlanta v. Spearman, 209 Ga. App. 644 (1993) that the aforementioned “premises” is the lot, not just a portion thereof. In Spearman, the relevant parking garage was managed, operated and controlled by the Georgia Building Authority. The employer — in this case, City of Atlanta — merely provided 100 spaces for its employees use. Thus, the court concluded that though the city had control over 100 spaces, they did not own, operate or control the entire lot and, as such, the injury was not compensable.
An additional hurdle in parking lot cases comes into play when an employee is not actually injured in the parking lot, but instead while on the way to or from the parking lot. Often, in these cases the employee may even be injured on a public street. One might conclude this is not compensable, but alas, the same initial question of maintenance, control or ownership remains. In Longupee v. Ga. Inst. of Tech., 269 Ga. App. 884 (2004), the employee departed the employer-owned parking lot and was crossing a public street when she was struck by a vehicle. However, the facts showed that at the moment of impact, the employee was “headed directly to work from the parking facility on a route which required her to cross the street” making the case compensable. Id. at 885. The court found it irrelevant the employee could have taken a different route to work.
Additionally, Georgia courts have found no relevance in the parking lot being an optional employee benefit. In Knight-Ridder Newspaper Sales, Inc. v. Desselle, 176 Ga. App. 174 (1985), the employee was struck by a vehicle while crossing a public street between the work building and a parking lot leased by the employer. Again, the court concluded it was not determinant the employee was on a public street at the moment of impact. Further, the court found it “immaterial” the employee was not required to park in the lot, making it an optional employee benefit.
When facing a case where an employee was either injured in a parking lot, or conversely, injured while traveling to or from a parking lot, we turn to a fact-finding mission. Who owned the parking lot? Was it leased? Who controlled it? Was there a guard and, if so, hired by whom? Was there a fence? Though workers’ compensation in Georgia is a no-fault system, the truth is the courts are often looking for a manner of employer control. The rationale being that if the parking lot is owned or maintained by the employer, the employer could have repaired or removed any hazardous conditions and prevented an injury. It is fundamentally a system of fairness. Keep in mind this is simply the first analysis in your parking lot case. Even if you conclude an injury is compensable because the employer did own, maintain or control the parking lot, consider availing yourself by applying another defense, where applicable.
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