If you are a Connecticut State employee who has been injured in a State parking lot on your way to or from work and you are permanently disabled -beware – the State may try to deny you your hard earned disability retirement. This is because the State may claim that your injury was not service connected. If you have worked for the State for over ten years, it may not matter if your injury is service-connected, but if your service was less than ten years, you may not qualify for benefits.
The State Employee Retirement Act uses a similar standard to the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Act. “If a member, while in state service, becomes permanently disabled from continuing to render the service in which he has been employed as a result of any injury received while in the performance of his duty as a state employee, such member is eligible for disability retirement regardless of his period of state service.” C.G.S.A. § 5-169(b).
The Connecticut Workers’ Compensation statutes will award benefits to employees who incur injuries that arise out of and are in the course of employment. “Arising out of and in the course of employment” generally means an accidental injury happening to an employee or an occupational disease of an employee originating while the employee has been engaged in the line of the employee’s duty in the business or affairs of the employer upon the employer’s premises, or while engaged elsewhere upon the employer’s business or affairs by the direction, express or implied, of the employer” § 31-275(1). An injury may be caused by a single trauma located as to time and place; performance of repetitive acts that are done over time; or an occupational disease, i.e., “…any disease peculiar to the occupation in which the employee was engaged and due to causes in excess of the ordinary hazards of employment….”.
Workers in all states who are injured while commuting to or from their place of employment are generally not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under what is known as the “coming and going” rule. However, with the extension of the premises doctrine, parking lot injuries are compensable. Injuries which occur in employer-sponsored parking lots are generally considered to have arisen out of and in the course of employment. In Hughes v. American Brass, 141 Conn. 231, 104 A.2d 896 (1954), an employee’s injuries occurring while slipping on a patch of ice prior to the workday while leaving an employer-sponsored parking lot were found to be compensable. Id. The Hughes court stated: “… it is not necessary that the employer authorize the use of a particular means or method although that element, if present, is important. It is enough that the going to and from work across the employer’s property can be reasonably held to be an incident to the employment within the contemplation of the parties because the employer knew that it was customary and acquiesced in it and because it was for his benefit in furthering the employment.” Id. at 234. The compensation review board has found that injuries occurring in parking lots which are commonly used by employees and adjacent to the employer’s premises can be considered compensable even if the parking areas are not owned or maintained by the employer and was not directed to park in a particular area by the employer. Russo v. Stop and Shop, 4002 CRB-06-99-03 (1999). Chavarriaga v. Pathmark, 5 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 16, 363 CRD-7-84 (1988). See also Meeker v. Knights of Columbus, 5115 CRB-3-06-7 (2007) (injury on public sidewalk walking to employer from company parking lot found compensable); Cimmino v. Hospital of St. Raphael, 4230 CRB-3-005-5 (2001) (injury occurring during lunch break while crossing public road to enter employer-sponsored parking lot compensable); Desrosins v. Stop and Shop, 3860 CRB-07-98-07 (1999) (injury in employer parking lot while running to avoid fellow employee compensable); Walsh v. Omni Medical Service, 5323 CRB-3-08-2 (Apr. 22, 2009) (fall in parking lot compensable after locking up building to go on unpaid lunch break). 19 Conn. Prac., Workers’ Compensation § 6:1.
Whether or not your injury, on your employer’s parking lot, is service connected is essential a legal question. The Medical Examining Board is made up of physicians, not lawyers. The MEB has no special expertise when it comes to making legal decisions. This means that, if your case is denied by the MEB because of a legal issue, you will need to take your case to the next level to get their decision reversed.