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An Albertsons Cos. LLC grocery store employee who fell in his employer’s shared parking lot while on a break suffered a compensable injury, the Workers’ Compensation Court of Montana held on Monday.
The employee worked as a baker for a Missoula, Montana, grocery store owned by the Boise, Idaho-based grocery store chain, according to court documents in Amundsen v. Albertsons Companies LLC. The grocery store chain leased its space at the strip mall, which stipulated that the owner was responsible for maintaining the common areas, including the parking lot, but the lease also required the grocer to pay a pro rata share of the common area maintenance cost.
On Feb. 9, 2018, the employee walked to his car for his 15-minute break, which was parked near a cart corral. On his return to the store, he slipped and fell, injuring his right ankle.
Albertsons denied liability for his accident on the grounds that it did not arise out of an in the course of his employment and that the parking lot was not part of the grocer’s worksite, leading the employee to file a lawsuit seeking compensation of his injury as well as increased penalties under the Montana Workers Compensation Act for unreasonable denial. Both parties moved for summary judgment.
The employee argued that the entire parking lot was part of Albertsons’ worksite because the company’s “courtesy clerks” worked in the lot to retrieve carts, carry out groceries to customer vehicles and remove trash daily. But Albertsons denied that the parking lot was its worksite since it is shared by other tenants, and further contended that as a baker, the employee only worked inside the store.
The Workers’ Compensation Court of Montana held that the employee’s injuries occurred during the course and scope of his employment and were compensable after finding held that Albertsons’ worksite included the portion of the parking lot where the employee fell.
The court dismissed Albertsons’ argument that the activities of its courtesy clerks were insufficient to establish the parking lot as part of the grocery store’s worksite. The court also found no merit in the store’s contention that because the employee was a baker, the parking lot was not his worksite, noting that the state’s workers comp statute allows for compensability of injuries that arise out of and in the course of employment at the “worksite of the employer” not the “workstation of the injured employee.”
The court denied Albertsons’ motion for summary judgment and held that the store was liable for benefits under the state’s workers compensation act, but denied the employee’s motion for summary judgment on his claim that Albertsons’ refusal to cover his workers comp claim was unreasonable and that he was entitled to up to 20% more benefits as allowed by the state’s WCA. The court found that the store’s initial denial was reasonable because Montana law is not settled on liability for leased parking lots.
Albertsons did not return calls for comment on the decision.
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