The Georgia Court of Appeals has overturned a Georgia Board of Worker’s Compensation decision denying benefits to a deceased man’s family. In Bonner-Hill v. Southland Waste Systems, Inc., a man was tragically killed when his vehicle was struck by a train while he was driving over railroad tracks on his way to work. The man’s workplace is situated in such a way that anyone entering or exiting the premises is required to pass over the train tracks.
In response to the man’s death, the employee’s wife sought workers’ compensation benefits on behalf of herself and the couple’s three dependent children. The decedent’s employer argued that such benefits were not merited because the train accident did not occur while the man was at work.
Following a hearing, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) determined that the man’s death was compensable because the deadly incident occurred on his employer’s premises under the ingress and egress rule. The decedent’s employer leased the property and access via the entrance road from another company. The ALJ found that the terms of the employer’s lease provided the company with control over the road on which the collision occurred, the access street was a part of the business premises, and there was no other route available for workers to use in order to reach the employer’s building. In addition, the ALJ found it significant that the man was killed immediately prior to his scheduled work shift. The ALJ stated the accident occurred within a reasonable period of time, as required by the ingress and egress rule.
Next, the deceased man’s employer appealed the ALJ’s decision to the Georgia Board of Worker’s Compensation. According to the Board, the man’s fatal accident was not compensable because he had not yet arrived at work. The Board also found that his employer did not have exclusive control over the entrance street. Because of this, the board held that the ingress and egress exception relied upon by the ALJ was inapplicable. After the Board’s decision was automatically affirmed by a Georgia Superior Court, the decedent’s wife appealed the workers’ compensation case to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
On appeal, the decedent’s wife argued that the Board committed error when it determined that an employer must have exclusive control over a roadway for the ingress and egress rule to apply. Before examining the case, the court first stated it was not permitted to act as a fact finder in place of the Board. Next, the Court of Appeals said it was tasked with determining whether there was sufficient evidence to support the Board’s finding. The court added, however, that it could overturn the Board’s decision if it was based on an erroneous application of the law.
After that, the Georgia appellate court examined the law surrounding when a worker’s death or injury is compensable under state workers’ compensation laws. The court said that injuries that “arise out of” an individual’s employment must be causally related to his or her job duties. In addition, the court stated that a compensable injury is one that occurred “in the course of” the worker’s employment. Although incidents that occur while an employee is traveling to or leaving from work are generally not compensable in the state of Georgia, this is not always the case. The ingress and egress rule allows an employee to collect workers’ compensation benefits for certain injuries sustained while on an employer’s property.
A court must examine several factors when determining whether a worker was hurt while on an employer’s business premises for purposes of the ingress and egress rule. According to the Court of Appeals, the area in which the accident occurred must be limited or nearly limited to the employer’s business. Additionally, the property must be controlled, owned, leased, or maintained by the injured worker’s employer. Whether or not the public has unrestricted access to the premises does not play a factor in the court’s analysis.
Finally, the Georgia Court of Appeals stated the Board committed error in the case and overturned its decision. The appellate court held that the ingress and egress rule applied to the case at hand because the terms of the employer’s lease stated that the road on which the deceased man was killed was a part of the employer’s business premises.
If you were hurt or a loved one was killed in a tragic workplace accident, you should speak with an experienced Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyer. For a free consultation with a reliable and hardworking attorney, call Julie A. Rice, Attorney at Law, & Affiliates at (770) 865-8654 or contact us online. Julie A. Rice, Attorney at Law, & Affiliates has years of experience helping individuals who were injured at work across the State of Georgia.
Bonner-Hill v. Southland Waste Systems, Inc., Ga: Court of Appeals 2014
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