New Minnesota Supreme Court Decision: ARISING OUT OF AND IN THE COURSE OF – Josephine M. Hohlt v. University of Minnesota, A16-0349 (Minn. June 28, 2017)

Josephine Holt (“Employee”) slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk, breaking her hip. She was a painter employed by the University of Minnesota (“Employer”) and after finishing her shift and “punching out”, she began walking the four blocks to her car. She had parked in an Employer owned ramp because it was one of the cheaper places to park. She had not been instructed on where to park. It was snowing and sleeting that day and despite the Employee’s attempt to walk carefully, when she began to cross the street across from the parking ramp, she slipped on the sidewalk’s curb ramp and fell. Per a City ordinance, it is the responsibility of the Employer to maintain the relevant sidewalk and keep it clear of snow and ice.

 

The matter went to hearing before a compensation judge. The issues disputed at hearing were whether the injury arose out of and in the course on the employment. The compensation judge held the injury did not arise out of the employment because the hazard the Employee faced (an icy sidewalk) was no different than that faced by the general public. The decision was appealed.

 

The WCCA reversed, holding the injury did arise out of the employment because the Employee was on the Employer’s premises when she was injured and was “walking a short distance on the most direct route to a parking ramp owned and operated by her employer.” The WCCA noted that the Employee was on the premises because of her employment and not because she was a member of the general public. The Employer appealed. arguing the WCCA had misapplied Dykhoff’s distinct “arising out of” and “in the course of” tests.

 

The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the WCCA’s decision, finding the injury compensable. The Court noted that there were no relevant facts in dispute, and therefore reviewed the case de novo. The Court analyzed the facts under the two-part test established in Dykhoff, reiterating that both the “in the course of” and “arising out of” tests must be applied separately and both must be satisfied for an injury to be compensable.

 

In order for the “arising out of” part test to be satisfied, there must be some casual connection, A causal connection can be established by showing an increased risk. The Court held the WCCA correctly concluded there was a causal connection between the injury and the employment because the Employee was exposed to the hazard of the icy sidewalk because of her employment. The Court stated, “…the test is not whether the general public was also exposed to the risk, but whether the employee was exposed to the risk because of employment.” When an employee is exposed to a hazard on the employer’s premises that creates an increased risk, the “arising out of” prong of the test is satisfied.

 

An employee is “in the course of” employment both when he or she is providing service to the employer and for a reasonable period of time beyond working hours when engaging in activities incidental to the employment. In this case, the Employee was walking four blocks directly from the building she was working in to where her car was parked. This walk was incidental to her employment and within a reasonable time after she completed her shift. When the incident occurred, she was traveling between Employer premises – the building she was working in and the parking ramp. Traveling between two Employer premises puts an Employee “in the course of’ employment. Additionally, she was walking on Employer maintained sidewalks.

 

There was a vigorous dissent from Justice Anderson who opined that neither the “arising out of” or “in the course of” tests were satisfied. Justice Anderson reasoned that there was no causal connection between the injury and the employment because the Employee was not exposed to any greater risk than the public and could just as easily have fallen at that same spot in pursuit of personal activities. She was not “in the course of” her employment because she had punched out, was not performing work duties and was walking on a public sidewalk to a parking location of her choosing.

 

The full decision can be found HERE