Injury that occurs between smoking area, workstation merits workers' compensation
Case name: Triplett v. Mystaff Medical, et al., No. 107277 (Okla. Civ. App. 04/22/10).
Ruling: The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court's decision denying benefits to a worker who was injured during a smoking break. The injury occurred in the course of employment, entitling her to benefits.
What it means: The Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Act limits awards of benefits to injuries occurring in the scope of the worker's employment. When a worker suffers an injury at work walking from an employer-designated smoking area to her workstation, that injury is within the scope of employment and the worker may recover benefits.
The claimant arrived at work early because the roads were icy from a snow storm. She went to her workstation, turned on her computer, and went to an employer-designated area to smoke. As she was returning to her work area, she slipped and fell on a slick floor, injuring her left knee, left side and back. The employer claimed that it was not responsible for her injuries because she was on a personal errand, which removed the accident from the course of employment. The trial court sided with the employer and denied benefits. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed. The claimant's case was similar to one in which an employee recovered benefits for an injury suffered while crossing a public street to reach her car located in a parking lot provided by the employer. In both cases, the employer was responsible for the hazard that led to the worker's injury.
The court examined several cases in which the employees were injured on their way to or from work and concluded that those decisions "all depend on the circumstances of each case." In the case of the worker who was injured while crossing a public street, the court found that "traffic on that street constituted an employer-created hazard," which arose out of and in the course of employment.
Similarly, the claimant in this case was in her work area and left to visit a place designated by the employer as a smoking area. The court explained that it considered the entry way of the work area as "equivalent to the parking lot" addressed in prior decisions. As a result, the injury occurred in the scope of her employment.
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August 5, 2010
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