The South Carolina Supreme Court essentially abandoned 19 years of court precedence by finding the divided premises rule applies to injuries sustained while on a public street traveling from one employer-controlled location to another employer-controlled location. The state’s highest court, with all justices agreeing, overturned the single commissioner, full commission, and state Court of Appeals in finding a college professor suffered a compensable injury when she was struck by a vehicle on a public street while walking from the college’s library to the faculty parking lot.
The court held these facts constituted an exception to the going and coming rule (finding injuries sustained traveling to and from work are not compensable) because the professor was on the college’s premises, then had to walk through the public street in order to get to the college-maintained faculty parking lot. The court distinguished this case from the 1987 Howell decision, where it found the employee was not entitled to benefits because she was dropped off on the public street rather than parking in the employer-controlled parking lot. The court noted the divided premise rule should be applied to find compensability, especially in cases where the employer created the need for the employee to cross a public street, thus the employer created the hazard of the trip. However, the court indicates that even if the employee was not required to park in the employer-controlled lot, if the employer allows the employee to park in a certain area, injuries sustained while traveling on the public street to and from the actual location of the employment are compensable.
How can employers mitigate this liability? Unfortunately, when the state supreme court indicates “[the college] cannot avail itself of the benefits that come from providing its employees a place to park and then disclaim responsibility for the consequences of that decision”, there are not many options for the employer. However, employers should be aware that the scope of workers’ compensation coverage will now extend to public areas if the employer has properties that are not contiguous.