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Worker's Comp Update

INJURY TO EMPLOYEE THAT HAD CLOCKED OUT DEEMED NOT COMPENSABLE

McDuffie vs. Medical Center Enterprise
Circuit Court of Coffee County, Alabama (September 14, 2012)

            The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals recently held that an off-the-clock employee that fell and suffered injuries while on her employer’s premises was not injured in the line and scope of her employment. 

            The plaintiff, Nancy McDuffie, was employed as a patient-care attendant at Medical Center Enterprise (MCE).  While employed with MCE, McDuffie also attended classes at a local community college to earn her registered-nurse (“RN”) degree.  As part of the community college program, McDuffie was to attend classes and participate in “clinicals” in which she and other nursing students worked, under the supervision of a college instructor.  The clinical McDuffie participated in was held at MCE.

            It was undisputed that MCE did not provide benefits to pay for McDuffie’s schooling to become an RN nor was the clinical connected to McDuffie’s employment with MCE. 

            On March 12, 2010, McDuffie worked the night shift from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.  After changing from her hospital scrubs to her “whites” which she was required to wear as a nursing student, McDuffie clocked out and said goodbye to a supervisor.  McDuffie acknowledged that, at that point, she had no further job duties to perform for MCE. 

            After clocking out, McDuffie proceeded to the lobby to meet her clinical supervisor and her fellow nursing students.  As she reached the lobby, McDuffie realized that she had left a folder in her vehicle that contained materials she needed for clinicals.  According to McDuffie, her clinical supervisor told her to go get the folder. 

            After leaving the lobby to go to her vehicle, McDuffie fell on some stairs in the hallway leading to the parking lot where her vehicle was located.  She was not certain what caused her fall.  McDuffie broke her arm in the fall. 

            McDuffie filed a lawsuit seeking workers’ compensation benefits under the theory that she had fallen while leaving her employer’s place of business.  MCE answered the complaint and argued that McDuffie’s injury arose during the course of her college clinical program and was not connected to her employment. 

            The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of MCE.  Specifically, the trial court determined that McDuffie failed to demonstrate that her injury arose out of and in the course of her employment.  McDuffie appealed.

            On appeal, McDuffie argued that an injury that occurs on the employer’s premises as the employee is leaving work can be compensable under the Act.  McDuffie cited to Alabama case law holding that an employee can recover compensation benefits if he or she is injured in a parking lot owned and maintained by his or her employer.  Brunson v. Lucas, 5 So.3d 1274 (Ala.Civ.App.2008).  McDuffie reasoned that the facts surrounding her fall presented a similar fact situation.

           The question for the Court of Appeals was whether McDuffie’s injury naturally related to her employment.  In affirming the decision of the trial court, the Court of Appeals relied on prior cases holding that in order for an injury occurring on the employer’s premises after the work day has ended to be compensable, the employee must have been “engaged in an act naturally related and incidental to the service or work which he was engaged to perform.”  The court reasoned that relevant to a determination of whether the accident was incident to or related to McDuffie’s employment is the nature of the activity; whether MCE managed, directed, or encouraged the activity; or whether the activity would benefit MCE. 

            According to the Court’s opinion, the evidence was undisputed that MCE did not contribute toward McDuffie’s education, did not direct the manner in which she obtained her education, and did not benefit by McDuffie’s participation in the clinical program in order to further her education.  The court determined MCE established that, at the time of her injury, McDuffie was pursuing her education and the accident did not arise out of or in the course of her employment.  The court felt that McDuffie leaving the MCE building to go to her vehicle had no relation to her employment.  According to the court, it was undisputed that the proximate cause of McDuffie’s injury was her desire to have her materials for her clinical program. 

            The Court of Civil Appeals concluded that, since MCE neither managed, directed or encouraged McDuffie to perform her clinical or other college course work, it was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.  The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s granting of summary judgment holding that McDuffie’s injury was not compensable. 

I hope you have found the above summary helpful and informative. If you have any questions or would like copies of the cases referenced in this letter, please feel free to give me a call.

            For a copy of this and other publications regarding recently released cases of interest in the State of Alabama, please feel free to visit our website at www.robertsasscociates.net/publications.  If you would like to receive these updates via email, please send an email to sroberts@robertsassociates.net.