A typical work schedule for a full-time employee consist of working seven to eight hours a day. A customary practice among some employees involves leaving their place of employment a couple minutes before their official workday ends; however, what happens if you are injured during those last few minutes? Are you considered “on the clock?” Can you sue your employer for damages, or are you restricted to workers’ compensation as your only remedy? These are the questions that will be discussed in this article.
In order to adequately address these issues, we must first define the terms of art. The term “damages” can be defined as financial relief for an injury sustained resulting from another person’s actions or inaction. In tort cases, damages are typically awarded to a party or parties. On the other hand, under Louisiana law, workers’ compensation can be defined as a compromise between the employee and employer or co-employee that allows the injured employee to recover benefits in accordance with the statute La. R.S. 23:1031. Workers’ Compensation will create immunity for the employer or co-employee from civil tort lawsuits, except when intentional acts causing the injury are present. Therefore, workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for most injured employees under Louisiana law.
In this case, there are multiple parties. The first party is the plaintiff, Ms. Frazier, who is the injured employee seeking recovery. The second and third parties are the defendants, the City of Shreveport in the Airfield Maintenance Division (the employer), and Mr. Patterson (the co-employee). Both Ms. Frazier and Mr. Patterson are employees for the City of Shreveport in the Airfield Maintenance Division. Ms. Frazier’s work schedule consisted of eight hours a day, arriving at eight o’clock in the morning and leaving work at five o’clock in the afternoon. On January 22, 2013, Ms. Frazier engaged in the customary practice of leaving work shortly before 5:00 p.m. During that time, she proceeded to the employee parking lot and entered her car. Soon thereafter, Ms. Frazier was involved in a low-impact collision with Mr. Patterson. Unbeknownst to Mr. Patterson, he backed a city-owned truck into the rear bumper of Ms. Frazier’s personal vehicle. Ms. Frazier was then taken to the hospital for an examination.
Subsequently, Ms. Frazier filed a petition for damages against the defendants (i.e., her employer and her co-employee). She sought summary judgment for these claims. Summary judgment arises by a motion filed by a party who believes that there are no genuine factual disputes and that they are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. See La. C.C.P. art. 966. In response, the City of Shreveport filed its own motion for summary judgment. The district court denied the motions and held that the plaintiff’s exclusive remedy was workers’ compensation because the accident occurred on the employer’s premises before 5:00 p.m., which is the time that Ms. Frazier was technically on duty. Ms. Frazier then appealed the lower court’s decision. On appeal, Ms. Frazier argued that she was not performing work duties during the time of her accident; therefore, she is not required to file under workers’ compensation. However, this argument did not stand.
Under Louisiana law, La. R.S. 23:1031(A) details the rights of workers to receive compensation. According to Lafitte- Nesom v. Christus Schumpert Highland, 188 So.3d 1100 (La. Ct. App. 2016), an accident occurs in the course of employment when the employee sustains an injury while engaged in performing his or her duties during work hours, either on the employer’s premises or where job activities take place. Moreover, an accident arises out of employment if the risk from which the injury resulted is greater for the employee than for a person not engaged in employment.
Here, the issues are whether Ms. Frazier was in the course and scope of employment at the time of the accident and whether the accident arose out of Ms. Frazier’s employment. In order to determine whether Ms. Frazier’s claim for damages falls under the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act, both elements must be satisfied.
In this case, the facts state that Ms. Frazier engaged in the customary practice of leaving the workplace a few minutes early and waited in the employee parking lot until her workday came to a close at five o’clock. While waiting, she was involved in a low-impact car accident with her co-employee. Testimony from Mr. Patterson and Mr. Lowe, who is the supervisor of the airfield maintenance employees, confirmed this assertion. The Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal reasoned that the trial court was not in error because the accident occurred while Ms. Frazier was in the course of her employment when she stayed on the premises, and she was fulfilling her job duties by her employer until five o’clock.
Next, the court analyzes whether the accident arose out of her employment. Here, Mr. Patterson and Mr. Lowe testified that airfield maintenance employees were required to use the employee parking lot. The parking lot was opened to the general public, however, non-employees did not frequent that parking area. The Second Circuit concluded that the accident arose out of the plaintiff’s employment because the employer required its employees to park in a designated area on the premises, and Ms. Frazier obliged.
In conclusion, the court reasoned that Ms. Frazier was “still on the clock” when the accident occurred; therefore, she was in the course and scope of her employment. Additionally, Ms. Frazier followed the parking restrictions implemented by her employer when she parked on the premises; therefore, the accident arose out of her employment. Thus, Ms. Frazier’s exclusive remedy will be workers’ compensation. The conflict between civil lawsuits and workers’ compensation can be detailed and complicated. An excellent attorney can work through this.
Additional Sources: ELLEN FRAZIER v. THE CITY OF SHREVEPORT, STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY AND ART R. PATTERSON
Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Workers’ Compensation: Workers’ Compensation is a Statutory Employee’s Exclusive Remedy for Injuries