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Claims filed after woman shot in workplace parking lot can proceed

Parking lot

Claims filed by the estate of a woman who was killed in a grocery store parking lot after finishing her shift are not barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Georgia Workers Compensation Act.

In Smith v. Camarena, a three-judge panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals’ 5th Division in Atlanta reversed a trial court’s ruling on Wednesday in a unanimous decision, holding that the deceased worker’s estate could procced with claims against the store.

At closing time on Feb. 7, 2015, Fabiola Zavaleta-Ramirez clocked out after her shift at the grocery store where she worked in Mableton, Georgia, and walked out to the store’s parking lot. As she was speaking with a co-worker and the co-worker’s husband, a masked gunman approached, demanding their purses and wallets. An assistant manager was driving by, spotted the robbery and yelled out. The robber fired at the assistant manager and he returned fire. The woman was killed during the exchange.

The parking lot was owned by the store’s landlord and served several businesses in the same shopping center.

The administrator of her estate, Michael Smith, filed a lawsuit against the grocery store and its owners and managers, who moved to dismiss the suit on the basis that the worker’s claims were barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers Compensation Act. A trial court granted summary judgment to the grocer, holding that claims filed by the deceased worker’s mother were barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the act.

The estate appealed, and the appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that the estate’s claims against the grocer were not barred under the act.

Although it is undisputed that the employee was not on duty when the shooting occurred, the grocery store argued that she was still “within the period of her employment under the ingress/egress rule” that includes reasonable time for an employee to enter and leave a place of work while on the employer’s premises.

The appellate court, however, found that since the store did not own, maintain or control the parking lot, that a jury would “at least be authorized to conclude” that the shooting did not occur in the course of her employment, and that therefore, the injuries were not compensable and the grocery store was not entitled to summary judgment under the act’s exclusive remedy provision.



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