Connecticut workers’ comp: Injury in the course of employment

Whether an injury occurred in the course of employment can be a complex question impacting benefit eligibility.

A recent Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission Compensation Review Board decision sheds light on the question of when is an injury in the course of employment for purposes of qualifying for workers' compensation. The June 28, 2018, decision of Bagley v. Gardner Heights Health Care Center, Inc., involved an employee who hurt her back and arms when she shoveled snow off her vehicle the employer's parking lot.

Administrative appeal

When a workers' compensation claim is denied in Connecticut, the claimant can request that a commissioner within the Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission review the claim, normally at an administrative hearing.

Either the claimant or the employer can request that the Compensation Review Board review the commissioner's decision. This is the level at which the Bagley decision we discuss here was decided.

Covered injuries

For an injury to be compensable under workers' compensation in Connecticut, it must arise out of and in the course of employment.

State statute defines this as "an accidental injury happening to an employee or an occupational disease of an employee originating while the employee has been engaged in the line of the employee's duty in the business or affairs of the employer upon the employer's premises, or while engaged elsewhere upon the employer's business or affairs by the direction, express or implied, of the employer ..."

The Connecticut Supreme Court has said that whether an injury occurs in the course of employment looks at the "time, place and [circumstance] of the accident."

Bagley's claim

While Bagley was at work as a nursing assistant, her employer had its parking lot plowed, plowing in her car. After punching out at the end of her shift, she used a shovel to begin to remove the snow blocking the driver's door on her vehicle so that she could leave the lot and head home. A colleague finished the task for her.

After shoveling, Bagley began to experience "burning pain" in her back and upper arms. This injury was the basis of her claim

The commissioner after the hearing found her testimony credible and that she was eligible for benefits. He said that the employer was responsible for plowing her in in the parking lot on the employer's property.

The employer asked the commissioner to reconsider, arguing that the injury did not arise out of employment because Bagley had clocked out; the shovel was only for the use of maintenance and shoveling was not part of her duties. The commissioner denied this request and the employer appealed to the board.

The board affirmed the decision of the commissioner granting benefits. It said courts have found that parking-lot injuries that happen after work shifts have ended "incidental to the employment" for more than 60 years, when the employer controls the lot or provides parking as a perk of the job.

Further, it would have been unreasonable "not to expect" that Bagley would have found something like the shovel to try to get her car out.

The commission also noted that it was the employer's plowing the car in that created the need to shovel it out, contributing to the injury.

As this case shows, workers' compensation cases can be quite complicated factually and legally. Anyone in Connecticut injured at work should seek legal advice from an experienced lawyer before filing or at any point in the appeals process.

The lawyers at Jacobs & Dow, LLC, in New Haven, represent injured workers in workers' compensation claims across Connecticut.