Rhode Island High Court Revisits Exception to Workers’ Comp ‘Going-and-Coming’ Rule

May 12, 2022

The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently revisited the “going-and-coming” rule that generally excludes workers’ compensation benefits where an injured worker is traveling to or from work. The court has affirmed — and slightly modified— an exception to that rule concerning parking lots that it first recognized 30 years ago.

In its 1968 ruling in Branco v. Leviton Manufacturing Co., the court extended an exception to the “going-and-coming rule” in situations where the employer owns and maintains an employee parking area separate from its plant-facility grounds, the employer takes affirmative action to control the route of the employee by directing the employee to park in that separate area, and the employee is injured while traveling directly from the lot to the plant facility

The so-called Branco exception has been utilized to allow or bar recovery in workers’ compensation cases involving an employee injury in a parking lot. The Branco case concerned an employee who was injured while walking from a parking lot to his place of work.

The current case, Phillips v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co., involves an employee walking from work to the parking lot used by employees of Enterprise. In the May 6 ruling, the high court tweaked that exception to recognize that the parking lot need not be owned by the employer. Enterprise did not own but instead leased the employee parking lot at 110 Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick where the plaintiff’s husband, Joseph Phillips, was headed on December 15, 2016 in crossing the street when he was struck and killed by a car. The lot is across the street from Enterprise’s offices at 90 Jefferson Boulevard.

Phillips was employed as a driver for Enterprise. His wife filed a petition in the Workers’ Compensation Court for compensation benefits of a deceased employee. She sought weekly benefits, as well as funeral expenses.

In February 2017, a workers’ compensation judge denied her claim, relying on the “going-and-coming” rule and the fact that the parking lot was not owned by Enterprise.

A trial judge later disagreed and found that the spouse’s claim was not barred by the going-and-coming rule. The trial judge ruled that the Branco exception applied even though Enterprise leased rather than owned the employee parking spaces “since in either case the risk of crossing Jefferson Boulevard remained the same.” The trial court ordered Enterprise to pay the plaintiff weekly indemnity benefits plus interest, funeral expenses, and counsel fees and costs.

Enterprise appealed and the appellate division vacated that decision, agreeing with Enterprise that the “going-and-coming” rule did bar the claim.

On further appeal, the state supreme court has now held that the “going-and-coming” rule does not preclude the claim in this case and the exception applies. The court said it matters little whether Enterprise owned or maintained the parking lot.

The court ruled that “in factual situations such as this case, where the location of the parking facility, a condition that is unchangeable regardless of its ownership or maintenance, creates the risk of injury, a petitioner need not show employer ownership or maintenance of the parking lot to recover under the Branco exception. Instead, to satisfy the first Branco prong, a petitioner need only show that the employer furnished a parking area for employee parking separate from its facility grounds.”

Topics Workers' Compensation

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