Workers’ compensation is normally the “exclusive remedy” for Georgia workers seeking benefits from their employer as the result of a work-related accident. By “work-related,” we mean that the employee’s injuries “arose out of and in the course of his employment.” In most cases, it is clear whether or not a worker’s injury was related to his employment. There are other cases where employers–and occasionally courts–may disagree as to the employee’s exact status at the time of their injury.
Kil v. Legend Brothers, LLC
A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Kil v. Legend Brothers, LLC, offered just such a scenario. This case involved a restaurant employee who was shot during an armed robbery attempt. His employer subsequently denied his claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
Here is what happened. The plaintiff worked as the defendant’s restaurant manager. After closing the restaurant for the night, the plaintiff typically performed another hour or so of work at his home–which he shared with the restaurant’s owner and several other employees.
On the evening in question, the plaintiff and the owner returned home, intending to review the receipts from that night. As they pulled into their garage, three men proceeded to rob them at gunpoint. When the robbers discovered the plaintiff also had a gun in his possession, they fled. In the course of fleeing, however, one of the robbers shot and seriously wounded the plaintiff.
The plaintiff has been unable to work since this incident. His employer nevertheless denied workers’ compensation benefits, arguing the robbery did not occur in the course of the plaintiff’s employment. The State Board of Workers’ Compensation disagreed and ordered the defendant to pay benefits. The defendant appealed, and a superior court judge reversed the State Board’s decision.
The Court of Appeals subsequently reversed the superior court, reinstating the Board’s decision in favor of the plaintiff. The appeals court explained that while an employee is generally not covered by workers’ compensation when commuting to and from work, in this case the Board determined the plaintiff’s “job responsibilities had not yet ended for the day” at the time of the robbery.
In other words, given that the plaintiff normally continued to work at home after the end of his normal shift at the restaurant, it was reasonable for the Board to conclude the plaintiff was still acting in the “course of his employment” when he was shot by the fleeing robber. The Court of Appeals noted the plaintiff and his boss proceeded directly home from the restaurant to continue working–i.e., they did not take any “personal detours” to perform non-work-related tasks.
The appeals court also emphasized it was not the role of the superior court to second-guess the factual findings made by the Board. As long as there was some “competent evidence” in the record supporting the Board’s findings, the superior court was legally required to accept those findings, at least with respect to the facts of the case.