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Intercontinental Hotels Group v. Utah Labor Commission

Supreme Court of Utah

September 4, 2019

Intercontinental Hotels Group and American Zurich Ins. Co., Petitioners,
v.
Utah Labor Commission and Jessica Wilson, Respondents.

          On Certification from the Court of Appeals

          Bret A. Gardner, Kristy L. Bertelsen, Scott R. Taylor, Salt Lake City, for petitioners

          Christopher C. Hill, Salt Lake City, for respondent Utah Labor Commission

          Gary E. Atkin, Kenneth E. Atkin, Salt Lake City, for respondent Jessica Wilson

          Chief Justice Durrant authored the opinion of the Court, in which Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Himonas, Justice Pearce, and Justice Petersen joined.

          OPINION

          Durrant, Chief Justice.

         Introduction

         ¶1 Jessica Wilson was injured after she tripped and fell in a parking lot while walking into work. To pay for her injuries, Ms. Wilson requested workers' compensation benefits from her employer, Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), which IHG denied. Ms. Wilson appealed this denial to the Utah Labor Commission, and the Labor Commission ordered IHG to award benefits. IHG now asks us to overturn the Labor Commission's decision. Because the Labor Commission did not err in concluding that Ms. Wilson's injuries arose out of, and in the course of, her employment with IHG, we decline to do so.

         Background

         ¶2 Ms. Wilson tripped and fell in a parking lot next to IHG's office building while on her way to work. Although IHG does not own the parking lot in which Ms. Wilson fell, it does have a "nonexclusive right" to use the entire parking lot, as well as "exclusive parking rights" to certain spaces in the lot.[1] At the time of the fall, the parking lot was free of any obvious tripping hazards, such as ice, cracks, or other defects.

         ¶3 As a result of the fall, Ms. Wilson injured her right foot-an injury that necessitated two surgeries and the amputation of her right third toe. To cover her medical costs, and to receive temporary disability compensation, Ms. Wilson filed a workers' compensation claim. But American Zurich Insurance Co., IHG's workers' compensation provider, denied Ms. Wilson's claim because it believed that, under the going-and-coming rule, her accident did not arise out of and in the course of her employment-a prerequisite to workers' compensation coverage under Utah law. Ms. Wilson challenged this denial by filing a claim with the Labor Commission.

         ¶4 An administrative law judge with the Labor Commission reviewed Ms. Wilson's claim and, after holding an evidentiary hearing, concluded that Ms. Wilson was entitled to workers' compensation benefits. The judge found that Ms. Wilson had "slipped and f[allen] in the parking area her employer directed her to use." As a result, the judge concluded that she was entitled to compensation under what courts often refer to as the premises rule. IHG appealed this decision to the Labor Commission's appeals board.

         ¶5 The Labor Commission affirmed the administrative law judge's ruling. In so doing, it found that "the communal parking area where the accident occurred [was] . . . part of IHG's premises for purposes of determining compensability under the Utah Workers' Compensation Act." For this reason, it held that Ms. Wilson's injury was "not precluded from compensability under the going and coming rule and the accident [wa]s considered to have arisen out of and in the course of her employment." In accordance with Utah Code section 63G-4-401, IHG petitioned the Utah Court of Appeals to review the entirety of the Labor Commission's order. The court of appeals subsequently certified the case to this court. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(b).

         Standard of Review

         ¶6 IHG asks us to reconsider the Labor Commission's order affirming the award of workers' compensation benefits to Ms. Wilson. "Whether the [Labor] [C]ommission correctly or incorrectly denied benefits is 'a traditional mixed question of law and fact.'"[2] And the "standard of review we apply when reviewing a mixed question can be either deferential or non-deferential."[3]"Deference on a mixed question is warranted when the mixed finding is not law-like because it does not lend itself to consistent resolution by a uniform body of appellate precedent or is fact-like because the [factfinder] is in a superior position to decide it."[4] In this case, we must review two Labor Commission determinations: one determination that is law-like-whether certain "going and coming" exception factors we identified in a previous case applied to accidents on an employer's premises-and another that is fact-like- whether the accident in this case occurred on the employer's premises. Accordingly, we review the first determination without deference, and the second determination with deference.

         Analysis

         ¶7 IHG argues that the Labor Commission erred when it determined that Ms. Wilson was entitled to workers' compensation benefits under Utah Code section 34A-2-401 (workers' compensation statute). This statute entitles an employee to workers' compensation benefits if the employee "is injured . . . by accident arising out of and in the course of the employee's employment."[5] The workers' compensation statute includes two requirements that are relevant to this case: the accident must (1) arise out of Ms. Wilson's employment with IHG, and (2) occur in the course of her employment with IHG. IHG argues that the accident did not arise out of Ms. Wilson's employment, because her injury did not stem from an employment-related risk. And it argues that the accident did not occur in the course of employment, because Ms. Wilson was traveling to work at the time.[6] We disagree on both counts.

         I. Ms. Wilson's Accident Arose Out of Her Employment With IHG

         ¶8 The first piece of the workers' compensation statute at issue is the meaning of the phrase "arising out of" employment. Ms. Wilson was injured when she tripped and fell in a parking lot next to IHG's office building while on her way to work. At the time of the fall, the parking lot was free of any obvious tripping hazards, such as ice, cracks, or other defects. IHG argues that the workers' compensation statute does not cover the unexplained fall in this case, because the "arising out of" element introduces a causation element into the workers' compensation statute. And IHG argues that this causation element limits compensation to only those injuries sustained as a result of exposure to risk "to which the general public is not exposed." Although we agree that the phrase "arising out of" introduces a causation element into the analysis, we hold that, in the workers' compensation context, the causation element is broad enough to encompass the unexplained fall in this case.

         A. The phrase "arising out of" introduces an element of causation into the workers' compensation analysis

         ¶9 The "arising out of" requirement in the workers' compensation statute requires that an accident be caused, in some sense, by an employee's employment. In Bountiful Brick Co. v. Giles, the United States Supreme Court stated that liability for an employee's injury "was constitutionally imposed under the Utah Compensation Law if there was a causal connection between the injury and the employment."[7] And in Utah Apex Mining Co. v. Industrial Commission of Utah, [8] one of our earliest workers' compensation cases, we explained that the "arising out of" phrase "refer[s] to the origin or cause of the injury." Subsequent cases have also interpreted the "arising out of" language as introducing a causation element into the statute.[9] So, under our case law, the phrase "arising out of" introduces a causation requirement into the workers' compensation analysis. We further clarified the nature of this causation requirement in Allen v. Industrial Commission.[10]

         ¶10 In Allen, we explained that the workers' compensation statute contained a causation requirement that made it necessary to distinguish those injuries that "coincidentally occur at work because a preexisting condition results in symptoms which appear during work hours without any enhancement from the workplace," from those injuries which occur because of some condition or exertion required by the employment.[11] After recognizing this causation requirement, we adopted Professor Larson's "two-part causation test."[12] The two parts of this test are (1) legal causation and (2) medical causation. We explained that under "the legal test, the law must define what kind of exertion satisfies the test of 'arising out of the employment.'"[13] And under the medical causation test, "the doctors must say whether the exertion (having been held legally sufficient to support compensation) in fact caused this [injury]."[14]Thus, Allen established that injuries legally and medically caused by a work accident satisfy the "arising out of" element of the workers' compensation statute.[15] Accordingly, we agree with IHG that the phrase "arising out of" introduces a causation requirement into the workers' compensation statute.

         B. Ms. Wilson's accident satisfies the causation requirement

         ¶11 Although IHG correctly states that the phrase "arising out of" requires a causal connection between an employee's injury and employment, we reject IHG's argument that this element limits workers' compensation to only those injuries sustained as a result of exposure to risk "to which the general public is not exposed." IHG argues that the workers' compensation statute provides benefits only for those injuries that occur because the employee's employment creates "an increased risk of injury" due to the nature of the employee's work responsibilities. According to IHG, this more restrictive view of causation would seemingly include only such risks as "falling objects, explosives, fingers getting caught in a machine, or a very heavy lift of an object"-in short, only those risks inherent in employment in heavy industry. But we reject this argument because it is inconsistent with our case law.

         ¶12 Our previous cases have made clear that in applying the legal causation component of Allen's two-part causation test, we need not determine whether the nature of an employee's work responsibilities created an increased risk to which the general public was not exposed. Instead, we need only determine whether the employee's employment can be considered "a condition out of which the event arises."[16]

         ¶13 Significantly, this does not require an injured employee to prove that a condition of the employment produced "the event in affirmative fashion."[17] Rather, an accident is legally caused by employment if it occurs "as a natural consequence" of the employee's employment.[18] So when the requirements of the workers' compensation statute are triggered, the employer is obligated to provide benefits "regardless of who was at fault in causing [the accident]."[19] The unexplained fall in this case meets that requirement.

         ¶14 Where "an employee falls while walking down the sidewalk or across a level factory floor for no discoverable reason," the causation requirement is satisfied because the "particular injury would not have happened if the employee had not been engaged upon an employment errand at the time."[20] In other words, in unexplained falls at work, employment constitutes a condition out of which the accident arises because that particular accident would not have happened where and when it did if employment obligations had not required the employee to be walking where he or she was walking at the time of the accident. Although this concept of causation would be insufficient to sustain a finding of tort liability, "most courts confronted with the unexplained-fall problem have seen fit to award compensation" in the workers' compensation context.[21] Our case law is consistent with this rule.

         ¶15 In Bountiful Brick, the Supreme Court explicitly held that there "was a causal connection" between an employee's employment and an injury the employee suffered while walking.[22] The Court explained that "employment includes not only the actual doing of the work, but a reasonable margin of time and space necessary to be used in passing to and from the place where the work is to be done."[23] And if "the employee [is] injured while passing" to or from the place where work is to be done "the injury is one arising out of and in the course of the employment."[24] So Bountiful Brick suggests that where an employee suffers an injury during travel to a work site, the employee's obligation to travel to the work site sufficiently connects the injury to the employment, thus satisfying the causation requirement.[25]

         ¶16 And this reasoning accords with a number of other Utah cases in which we, or the court of appeals, awarded workers' compensation benefits despite the accidents at issue having stemmed from risks to which the general public is equally exposed. For example, Utah courts have awarded compensation for injuries sustained in car accidents, [26] while shoveling snow, [27] while walking in a parking lot, [28] and while walking on ice on a public street.[29] In each of these cases, employment did not increase the risk of injury beyond that to which a member of the public would have been exposed. Nevertheless, in each case, we, or the court of appeals, found the injury compensable because it occurred while the employee engaged in an activity connected to the employee's work responsibilities.[30] Accordingly, we reject IHG's risk-based argument, and apply the legal causation test identified in our case law.[31]

         ¶17 In this case, Ms. Wilson's unexplained fall satisfies the causation requirement described in our case law. Ms. Wilson's accident occurred while she walked into work. And even though Ms. Wilson could just as easily have slipped while walking to the mall or through the park, Ms. Wilson's "particular injury would not have happened" where and when it did but for her obligation to appear at IHG's offices on the morning of the accident.[32]Accordingly, Ms. Wilson's employment was "a condition" out of which her accident arose.[33]

         ¶18 In sum, we hold that an injury arises out of employment if the employment was a condition out of which the accident occurred. More specifically, we hold that a slip-and-fall accident arises out of employment where the employee slips and falls in a place, and at a time, in which the employee would not otherwise have been but for the employee's employment obligations. Because Ms. Wilson slipped and fell in a parking lot on her way to work-a place she would not have been were she not obligated to report to work on the day of the accident-we hold that her accident arose out of her employment.

         II. Ms. Wilson's Accident Also Occurred in the Course of Her Employment Because it Occurred on IHG's Premises

         ¶19 In addition to the "arising out of" requirement, the workers' compensation statute also requires an accident to have occurred "in the course of" employment. The Labor Commission, citing what courts commonly refer to as the premises rule or premises exception, found that Ms. Wilson's accident occurred in the course of her employment. IHG argues this was error. It does so in two ways.

         ¶20 First, IHG argues that the premises rule is an exception to what we refer to as the going-and-coming rule, and that, after our decision in Jex v. Utah Labor Commission, [34] the Labor Commission was required to consider two factors-benefit and control-before applying it in this case.[35] But IHG errs in assuming the going-and-coming rule is relevant in cases involving accidents on an employer's premises. It is not. The going-and-coming rule applies only in cases in which an employee is injured off of an employer's premises. And because the purpose of the Jex factors is to help courts determine whether an exception to the going-and-coming rule should be made, the Jex factors apply only in cases in which an employee is injured off of an employer's premises. In this case, the Labor Commission found that the accident occurred on IHG's premises. Accordingly, we conclude the Labor Commission did not err in determining that the going-and-coming rule does not bar compensation. And in so concluding, we clarify the nature of the going-and-coming rule and what is often referred to as the premises exception to it.

         ¶21 Second, IHG argues that, even were the Labor Commission not required to consider the Jex factors, it nevertheless erred in determining that Ms. Wilson's accident occurred on IHG's premises. We disagree. Because the Labor Commission did not err in finding that IHG's premises included the parking lot in which Ms. Wilson fell, we also affirm the Labor Commission's finding on this point.

         A. Under the going-and-coming rule, accidents that occur while traveling on an employer's premises occur "in the course of employment"

         ¶22 First, IHG argues that the Labor Commission erred in applying the premises rule as a bright-line rule instead of considering the benefit and control factors that we identified in our Jex case. But this argument rests on the mistaken assumption that the going-and-coming rule applies to cases involving accidents that occur on an employer's premises. This mistake is understandable in light of cases that have discussed the premises rule as if it were a distinct exception to the going-and-coming rule.[36] But a closer look at the origins of the going-and-coming rule makes clear that the rule is inapplicable in cases involving accidents on an employer's premises. And it also makes clear that what courts sometimes refer to as the premises rule, or premises exception, is nothing more than a shorthand description of a circumstance in which the going-and-coming rule does not apply.

         ¶23 The going-and-coming rule is a "judicially adopted principle" that guides courts in determining whether an accident an employee suffers while traveling between home and work occurred in the course of the employee's employment.[37] An accident occurs in the course of employment if it occurs in "the time, place, and circumstances" typical of the employee's employment.[38] For example, in Black v. McDonald's of Layton, [39] we explained that to "be embraced within the ambit of 'course of employment,' the injury must be received while the employee is carrying on the work which he is called upon to perform or doing some act incidental thereto."

         ¶24 So, to occur "in the course of" employment, an accident "must occur within the period of employment, at a place or area where the employee may reasonably be, and while the employee is engaged in an activity at least incidental to his employment."[40] This language clearly includes employees who are injured while actively engaged in the work they are assigned to do during a time, and in the place, in which they are assigned to do it. But the language applies less clearly to accidents employees suffer while traveling to or from their work.

         ¶25 Professor Larson discusses the difficulty presented when an accident occurs while an ...


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