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Despite state law, a worker who slipped and fell in her employer's icy parking lot before clocking in is entitled to workers compensation benefits, a divided Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled.
Annette Legarde-Bober, a teacher at Oklahoma State University's childcare facility in Oklahoma City, was given a parking permit by the university and required to park in a particular lot, court records show. On a “cold and icy” morning in March 2014, she stepped up onto a curb in the parking lot before slipping and falling on the ice.
An employee injury report completed by Ms. Legarde-Bober's supervisor states that the “entire parking lot and sidewalk was icy,” that she was injured on the employer's premises and that she was in the course and scope of her employment when she fell, according to records.
Ms. Legarde-Bober sought treatment and workers comp benefits, but Oklahoma State University denied compensability, records show. Following a January 2015 hearing, an administrative law judge with the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission determined that the injury didn't occur within the course and scope of her employment and denied her claim.
The commission affirmed the judge's decision, leading Ms. Legarde-Bober to appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
The state Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an unpublished decision, ruling 6-3 that Ms. Legarde-Bober was in the course and scope of her employment when she fell since “her actions at the time of her injury were related to and in furtherance of the business of (Oklahoma State University), and (she) was on the premises of her employer when she fell.”
Oklahoma workers comp law excludes compensability for injuries “occurring in a parking lot or other common area adjacent to an employer's place of business before the employee clocks in or otherwise begins work for the employer.” But the high court majority found that the exception did not apply for Ms. Legarde-Bober because her employer admitted that she was on university property at the time of her accident.
The dissenting justices, however, noted that “course and scope of employment” does not apply to “an employee's transportation to and from his or her place of employment” and “any injury occurring in a parking lot or other common area adjacent to an employer's place of business before the employee clocks in or otherwise begins work for the employer,” among other exceptions, according to Oklahoma's workers comp law.
“The legislature made a policy decision to draw a clear line for the employer and employee that the 'clock' began and ended the employer's liability under workers compensation, unless directed otherwise by the employer,” the dissenting justices state. “Workers Compensation is not an exclusive remedy if the statutes specifically eliminate parking lot injuries as coming within the 'course and scope of employment.' If there is actionable negligence for a parking lot injury, it is still covered by tort law.”
Oklahoma's Consolidated Workers Compensation Program for public employees “has placed taxpayers at risk,” according to a lawsuit filed in Oklahoma County.