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Migrant worker's injury in company housing ruled compensable


COLUMBIA, S.C.—A fractured ankle a migrant worker received while living in employer-provided housing arose in the course of employment and is compensable, the South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled.

The Tuesday decision in Frantz Pierre vs. Seaside Farms Inc. and American Home Insurance Co. overturned rulings by the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission and a circuit court, which decided that Mr. Pierre's 2003 ankle injury was not compensable because he was not at work.

The accident occurred the evening before his first day of work.

The commission and lower court also found that the seasonal worker hired to perform duties in a packing house was not required to live in the employer-provided housing, which court documents describe as a tin-roofed barracks.

But the South Carolina Supreme Court disagreed in remanding the case for further proceedings.

It said that Mr. Pierre' injury, which occurred when he fell on a sidewalk where water was flowing from an outdoor sink used to wash clothes, occurred as a result of a hazard on his employer's property.

“Thus, the source of the injury was a risk associated with the conditions under which the employees were required to live,” the state Supreme Court ruled. It also said Mr. Pierre essentially was required to live on the grounds because he and other migrant workers employed by Seaside “did not earn enough to obtain housing, and short-term rentals that coincided with the time they would be in the area did not exist.”

In addition, the nature of the job required workers to live near the packing facility and the living arrangement was convenient for the employer's work schedule that varied with weather and crop conditions.

In reaching its conclusion, the South Carolina Supreme Court cited similar decisions in Florida, New Mexico and Oregon that relied on a “bunkhouse rule.”

“We find the reasoning in these cases persuasive and that they represent the modern view in employee-residence jurisprudence,” the South Carolina high court ruled.

The bunkhouse rule requires compensating employees who are injured while on an employer's premises if an employment contract or the necessity of work requires them to be there. The rule generally requires contemplating whether an employee's use of the premises constitutes a portion of their compensation, court records state.