A migrant worker sustained a right ankle fracture when he fell on a wet sidewalk outside housing provided by his employer at a remote farm on St. Helena Island, South Carolina. The worker hadn't actually started work for the employer, having been hired earlier on the day of his fall. The housing was supplied to the worker at no charge, in part, because of the remote location of the work site. The worker was terminated from employment since he could not perform the work duties and he filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits. The hearing commissioner determined that the worker had not sustained a compensable injury because he was not injured during the course and scope of his employment. According to the hearing commissioner, the worker "was under no requirement to live in the employer provided housing pursuant to his contract for employment," his work did not require that he be on continuous call, and he was not engaged in any activities that were calculated to further, either directly or indirectly, the business of his employer. The commissioner also indicated that the wet sidewalk was not different in character or design from other sidewalks, and the risk associated with slipping on the sidewalk was not one uniquely associated with his employment; rather, it was one he would have been equally exposed to apart from his employment. The Appellate Panel and circuit court affirmed.
Here's What The Court Decided:
In Pierre v. Seaside Farms, 2010 S.C. LEXIS 288 (Feb. 16, 2010), the Supreme Court of South Carolina reversed and remanded, holding that the injury did, indeed, occur within the course and scope of the employment. Acknowledging that South Carolina courts had not been called upon to render a decision involving the so-called "bunkhouse rule" (see Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 24.03), that South Carolina courts generally followed decisions from North Carolina, whose workers' compensation act had been the basis for the South Carolina act, but that the circuit court's reliance upon Jauregui v. Carolina Vegetables, 436 S.E.2d 268 (N.C. Ct. App. 1993), was misplaced. Whether a worker was contractually required to live on the employer's premises was not necessarily as important as whether the practical circumstances required that he or she live there. The court found more persuasive the decision in Chandler v. Nello L. Teer Co., 281 S.E.2d 718 (N.C. Ct. App. 1981), aff'd, 287 S.E.2d 890, 891 (N.C. 1982) (allowing benefits where the employee was stationed at a remote work camp for a road building project in Africa and the accident occurred as he was traveling back to his employer's camp after an off-duty excursion with friends; the worker was still within the confines of the employer's road project and was returning to his employer-provided sleeping quarters at the time of the accident). Examining decisions from several other jurisdictions, the South Carolina high court determined that the worker in the instant case was essentially required to live on the employer's premises by the nature of his employment and was making a reasonable use of the employer-provided premises at the time of his accident. The court also indicated that the worker's injury was causally related to his employment in that it was due to the conditions under which he lived, i.e., a wet sidewalk outside his building. See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 24.03.