Pierre v. Seaside Farms, Inc., et al., No. 26777 (S.C. 02/16/10).
Ruling: The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that a migrant worker who was required to live on the employer's premises was entitled to workers' compensation benefits.
What it means: In South Carolina, where the nature of the work requires an employee to live on the employer's premises and the employee is injured while making reasonable use of the premises, the injury may arise out of and in the course of employment.
Summary: A migrant worker fractured his ankle when he slipped on a wet sidewalk outside of the employer-furnished barracks. The worker argued the injury occurred in the course and scope of his employment because he was required to live in the barracks, the employer benefited from him living in the nearby housing, and the accident occurred in the context of his reasonable use of the housing facility. His reasonable use was not contested. The South Carolina Supreme Court rejected the Circuit Court's holding that the worker was not required to live on the premises and that the employer did not benefit from his presence in the barracks. Alluding to the "bunkhouse rule," the Supreme Court determined that the nature of his work in a tomato packing house necessitated his presence on the employer's premises, even if it was not mandated in his contract of hire. The court determined the worker's slip-and-fall occurred because of a hazard on the employer's premises and rejected the employer's argument that the sidewalk was "no different in character or design" than any other sidewalk. It reversed the denial of benefits.
The "bunkhouse rule" essentially says that an employee who is required to live on the employer's premises and is injured because of a risk associated with the living conditions on the premises may be entitled to compensation.The court found unpersuasive the employer's argument that the workers' presence in the barracks did not directly or indirectly benefit the employer. The employer absorbed the expense of housing the employees as the cost of doing business and to further its business, the court noted, as it was convenient to have all the workers ready to begin work at the same time.
The court noted the placement of an outdoor sink and apparent lack of drainage created the wet conditions that caused the worker to fall. Therefore, the source of the injury was considered a risk associated with the conditions under which the employees were required to live.
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April 5, 2010
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