Prior to November 18, 2014, an injury sustained by an employee within a reasonable time of going to or coming from work was compensable where
Prior to November 18, 2014, an injury sustained by an employee within a reasonable time of going to or coming from work was compensable where the injury occurred on the employer’s premises, or in an off-premises parking lot owned, maintained, or controlled by the employer. See Collie Concessions, Inc. v. Bruce, 272 Ga. App. 578 (2005); Hill v. Omni Hotel at CNN Center, 268 Ga. App. 144 (2004); Tate v. Bruno’s Inc./Food Max, 200 Ga. App. 395 (1991). Known as the “ingress/egress exception” and “parking lot exception”, this rule qualifies the general rule of non-compensability of accidents occurring while an employee travels to and from work.
In a very recent decision, the Court of Appeals changed this law with its opinion in Bonner-Hill v. Southland Waste Systems, Inc. Based on prior decisions, the Court appears to have significantly extended the definition of “employer’s premises” when applying the ingress/egress exception. Now, the ingress/egress exception “will apply if the area where the claimant is injured is an area (1) limited (or very nearly so) to the respondent business, even if the business’s right to the area is merely a leasehold interest or some other non-exclusive access.” Bonner-Hill v. Southland Waste Systems, Inc., 2014 WL 6433588 (Emphasis added).
In Bonner-Hill, the employee was traveling to work over the only road that provided access to the employment premises. The employer’s lease agreement for the premises included a non-exclusive right to use the access road to reach the employment site. Use of the access road was shared by the employer and two other businesses. The access road crossed over railroad tracks prior to reaching the employment site. While crossing these railroad tracks on his way to work, the employee was struck by a train and killed.
The Trial Division of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation held the employee’s death compensable based on its findings that there was no alternative access to the employment site, the access road was part of the building’s premises, the employee’s arrival was during a reasonable time before his shift, and the employer had control over the entrance road pursuant to the lease. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that the ingress/egress exception applied only to accidents occurring on an employer’s premises. Because the employer did not own, maintain, or control the access road where the employee’s death occurred, the accident could not be said to have occurred on the employer’s premises. The Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division, finding the injury occurred on the employer’s premises because the lease agreement included a non-exclusive right to use the access road.
Prior to Bonner-Hill, the ingress/egress exception was a two-pronged analysis. First, if the injury clearly occurred on the employer’s premises during a reasonable time for ingress or egress to work, it was compensable. If the injury did not occur on the employer’s premises, the courts then analyzed whether the employer owned, maintained, or controlled the area in which the injury occurred.
In Peoples v. Emory University, an employee was injured on his way to work when his bike crashed on a street owned by the employer, although it was open to public use as well. The employee’s injury was compensable because it occurred during a reasonable time for ingress and egress to work and was on the employer’s premises. The court held “[f]or the purposes of the ingress and egress rule, an employer’s premises is real property owned, maintained, or controlled by the employer.” Peoples v. Emory University, 206 Ga. App. 213, 214 (1992).
Likewise, in Tate v. Bruno’s Inc./Food Max, the court held an employee’s injury which occurred in the parking lot as she left work was not compensable because the parking lot was not owned, controlled, or maintained by the employer. The area in which the injury occurred was not part of the employer’s premises because the employer did not exercise any control over the area. Tate, 200 Ga. App. 395 (1991).
However, other cases have concluded an area was part of an employer’s premises without conducting a control analysis. De Howitt v. Hartford Fire Insurance Co. held “[w]here the employer’s place of business is located in a building of which it occupies only a part, and two ways through the building are the only means of ingress and egress to and from such place of business, both ways are parts of the employer’s premises within the meaning of the workmen’s compensation law.” De Howitt, 99 Ga. App. 147, 148 (1959).
Despite the holding in De Howitt, the court in Hill v. Omni Hotel at CNN Center, found an employee’s injury notcompensable where it occurred inside a larger complex that housed her employer, but not on her specific employer’s property. A factor Hill used to distinguish De Howitt was that De Howitt did not discuss whether the employer had any rights under the lease to control or any responsibility to maintain the area at issue. In Hill,however, there was clear evidence that the employer did not own, maintain, or control the area in which the injury occurred.
Bonner-Hill not only returns to, but significantly extends the holding in De Howitt by finding an employer’s premises includes areas used by the employer, even if the right of use is merely a leasehold or non-exclusive right of access. Moreover, the area’s use need only be nearly limited to the employer’s business. The area is still part of the employer’s premises even where other businesses use the area. Whereas De Howitt held an employer’s premises included shared building entrances, Bonner-Hill extends an employer’s premises to include shared areas outside of the building within close proximity to the workplace. In doing so, it defines a new area in between the actual work site and an off-premises parking facility in which an employee can sustain a compensable injury while going to or coming from work.
The Court’s decision is disconcerting because it essentially abolishes the “owned, maintained, or controlled” provision of the parking lot exception for employers with rights to use areas in close proximity to the work site. This is particularly problematic for employers in multi-tenant complexes with leaseholds that grant rights to use the shared access roads or parking facilities. Under Bonner-Hill, it appears these areas are now part of the employer’s premises, despite the fact the employer may have no control over or responsibility for maintaining these areas.
The decision also raises the question of the distance required before the parking lot exception analysis is triggered. Under Bonner-Hill, it seems an employer’s premises would include a parking lot adjacent to the workplace as long as the employer retained a non-exclusive right to access the lot. Because it is part of the employer’s premises, it is unnecessary to show the employer owned, maintained, or controlled the lot. However, what about an employer with a non-exclusive right to use an entrance road a mile away from the employment site? Would this area be deemed part of the employer’s premises given the right of access, or would the distance trigger a control analysis under the parking lot exception? Bonner-Hill does not provide clear-cut answers to these questions. Instead, it indicates that subsequent applications of the ingress/egress exception will require a critical analysis of the precise facts of a claim.