Lunch Break Injury Covered by Workers’ Comp, Maine Court Rules

June 19, 2006

An insurance company employee who hurt herself when returning to work from her lunch break was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits because the injury occurred on the employer’s premises, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday.

The unanimous ruling by the Maine high court affirmed an earlier decision by a Workers’ Compensation Board hearing officer who ruled against Aetna Inc., which claimed Robyn D. Fournier was not entitled to benefits.

Fournier hurt herself on Jan. 7, 2002, when she slipped and fell on the stairs to One Monument Square building in Portland, where Aetna had its offices.

While returning to work from her unpaid lunch break, Fournier slipped on snow and ice on the stairs, injuring her knee and possible aggravating a pre-existing back injury.

The hearing officer determined that because the outside staircase was part of the building common area, the injury occurred on Aetna’s premises. The officer also ruled that even though Fournier was returning to work at the time, her injury arose in the course of her employment.

Aetna Inc. disagreed and appealed the decision.

In its decision, the supreme court considered whether Fournier should be subject to the “going and coming rule,” an established workers’ compensation principle that provides that an accident occurring off an employer’s premises while the employee is merely on his way to or from work is not compensable.

But the justices agreed with the hearing officer’s decision that the common staircase leading to Aetna’s offices could be considered part of Aetna’s premises since it constituted a kind of right of passage through which the employer had something equivalent to an easement.

Aetna further argued that Fournier was not entitled to benefits because her injury did not arise out of or in the course of her employment while she was on her lunch break.

The hearing officer ruled she was entitled to benefits because the activity which led to the injury “was an insubstantial deviation from her employment,” didn’t violate work rules and wasn’t reckless.

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