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Are benefits recoverable under Workers’ Compensation action when injury occurs on the employers premises, but during a lunch break?

Maryland courts apply the “going and coming rule” which provides that “injuries received by an employee while going to or returning from his place of employment do not arise ‘out of and in the course of’ employment , and therefore are not compensable” under the Workmen’s Compensation Act. Wiley Manufacturing Co. v. Wilson, 280 Md. 200, 206 (1977). The rule is based on the premise that workmen’s compensation law is for injuries incurred by an employee engaged in a service that is growing out of his employment. Id. As such an employee who is going to or coming from work is not rendering services related to his employment and is exposed to hazards as a member of the general public and not as an employee.

There are two generally recognized exceptions to the ‘going and coming rule.’ The first is the ‘premises’ exception and the second is the proximity or special hazard rule. The application of these exceptions turns on the individual facts of each case. Id. at 210.

THE PREMISES EXCEPTION

The first exception, known as the ‘premises’ exception, is usually invoked “where the employee is injured while traveling along or across a public road between two portions of his employer’s premises, whether going or coming, or pursing the actual duties of his employment.” Id. The most common use of this exception is when an employee is traveling between the company’s parking lot and the employer’s office. Id. The Court of Appeals in Proctor-Silex v. DeBrick, held that injuries sustained on the parking lot or between the building entrance and the time clock are compensable. 253 Md. 477 (1969). In the present situation, claimant was traveling from the time clock to lunch when he/she sustained injuries. As such, this exception will most likely come into play. Claimant was on the premises of her employer. Further, claimant was required to clock out during lunch. Therefore, claimant’s injuries would most likely qualify under the premises exception to the ‘going and coming rule’ because she was still on the employer’s property.

THE ‘PROXIMITY’ OR ‘SPECIAL HAZARD’ RULE

The proximity rule is used in cases in which the accident occurs at a point where the employee is within the range of dangers peculiarly associated with the employment. Id. at 209. The rule has two components. First, there must be a hazard at the particular off-premises point. Id. Second, there must be a close association of the access route with the premises, so far as going and coming are concerned. Id. In the present situation, this exception could be found to apply. More information is needed, but if there was a hazard on the employer’s premises and that route was directly associated with going and coming from the property, then the danger would have been associated with claimant’s injuries. The present situation is unlike sustaining an injury while crossing the street from a parking lot to an employer’s office, which Maryland Courts have found inapplicable to the proximity exception. See Md. Paper Products Co. v. Judson, 215 Md. 577 (1958) (finding that the hazard of crossing a street is one not unique to employment, but one that all individuals encounter). The rule is not necessarily based on the close proximity to the place of employment, but the connection between the place of employment and dangers that the employee is subjected to, beyond that to which the general public is, because of its location. Pariser Bakery v. Koontz, 239 Md. 586, 591 (1965).

The applicability of the proximity rule in our present situation may depend upon the route which the claimant took when leaving work – specifically whether there were alternative routes available, whether this was a regularly/commonly traveled route, and/or whether the employer had told its employees not to travel the route in question. In Wiley, the Court of Appeals followed a Minnesota case in which an employee was injured while leaving work to go to lunch. 280 Md. At 213 (citing Johannsen v. Action Construction Co., 264 Minn. 540 (1963)). In the present situation, had the employer known of the route taken by its employees and not taken any measures to stop a long-established practice of employees taking the particular route, it may be deemed as to consenting to using that route. See Wiley, 280 Md. at 216-17 (finding controlling the fact that the employer had impliedly consented to a route which had been regularly and used for a number of years over the fact that the employee had selected a slightly more dangerous route). Also controlling may be whether the route taken by the claimant was a route traveled only by employers and not the general public. See id. at 217.

In conclusion, the situation will most likly turn on whether the worker was still on her employer’s premises when the injury was sustained. “While injuries sustained on leaving for or returning from lunch may be compensable as incident to employment, a distinction has been made between injuries occurring on the premises while going to or from work at a meal time, such being compensable, and injuries occurring off the premises at that time, such injuries, with several exceptions, not being compensable. 99 C.J.S. Workers’ Compensation § 433.

For more information, please contact our Maryland personal injury lawyers at 410-385-2225.