South Carolina’s highest court has ruled that a University of South Carolina employee hit by a truck while walking to her car is still eligible for workers compensation even though the injury did not occur on school property.
Justices on the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week that USC-Lancaster foreign languages professor Nathalie Davaut is eligible for benefits following the 2012 incident, which occurred on a road that crosses the Lancaster campus. Davaut was crossing the street from the USCL school library on the way to her car when a truck hit her in a crosswalk.
The state Workers Compensation Commission had initially ruled Davaut’s injuries were not compensable because she was leaving work at the time. South Carolina and most other states use the so-called “going-and-coming rule,” which does not allow employees to collect workers comp for injuries sustained on their way to or from work. However, an exception is usually made if the employee is still on his or her employer’s property at the time of the injury. At issue in Davaut’s case was whether or not that exception applies when the employee briefly leaves the property, such as to cross a city-maintained street to get to a university-owned parking lot.
The justices ruled 5-0 that it does, overriding the commission and a previous appeals court decision. “(When) an employee crosses from one portion of her employer’s property to another over a reasonably necessary and direct route, the employee remains in the course of her employment for purposes of workers’ compensation,” Justice John Kittredge wrote. In its decision, the court created a new “divided premises” rule that clarifies an employee can still be reimbursed for injuries sustained while directly traveling from one part of an employer’s property to another for work purposes.
Attorneys representing USCL had argued Davaut’s injury did not come as a result of her employment because faculty were not required to park in that specific lot. They argued expanding the exception to include property outside school grounds could be “unworkable,” according to the court’s ruling.
Workers comp attorney Stephen Wukela (who was not involved in the case) said it appears the court’s new “divided premises” rule is more a clarification than expansion of when employees can receive benefits. “Just because your employer’s premises is divided by a public right-of-way doesn’t mean you’re not covered if you cross that public right-of-way,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
The court ordered the Workers Compensation Commission to reconsider the case and determine Davaut’s benefits.