Employers Can Be Responsible for Falls in Parking Lots

By Christopher A. Gray, Esq.

Given the icy conditions we are finally beginning to experience this year, our office has fielded multiple calls from clients saying their employees slipped and fell on ice or snow in the clients’ parking lots. Often, the clients have two questions:  (1) is the slip and fall an injury for which a workers’ compensation claim will be filed; and (2) is the client liable for their employee’s medical bills?  In classic lawyer fashion, the answer is “it depends.”

Normally, employees who injure themselves before they begin their work day and after they leave work for the day are not eligible for worker’s compensation benefits. A classic example would be an employee who gets in a car accident during rush hour traffic on the way to work.  That employee’s car accident, though unfortunate, is not the employer’s responsibility.

An exception exists, however, for when employees have entered the “zone of employment.” The zone of employment includes the place of employment and any areas thereabout which are under the control of the employer.  Depending on whether or not the employer has control over the management and maintenance of the parking lot, an employee who slips and falls in an employer’s parking lot may be entitled to worker’s compensation benefits.

If the employer owns the parking lot where the employee fell, then the employee is likely eligible for worker’s compensation benefits. If the employer doesn’t own the lot but is still responsible for maintaining it, the employee is still likely eligible for benefits.  For example, where an employer leases a building and the adjoining parking lot and the lease says the employer is responsible for the lot, an employee who slips is likely eligible for benefits.

Another common scenario occurs when an employer shares a parking lot with other businesses. If the employer is not responsible for any part of the lot, then any employee who slips in the parking lot is likely not eligible for benefits.  If the employer is responsible for maintaining only part of the parking lot, or is entitled to use and control only a specific section of the parking lot, then employer is only responsible for injuries for employees who slip and fall in that specific section of the lot.

If an employer is not responsible for providing worker’s compensation benefits for an employee’s parking lot slip and fall, they will often wonder if they or some other party will be responsible for the employee’s injuries in a personal injury suit. The party who is responsible for maintaining the parking lot would be potentially liable for the injuries if the party was negligent in maintaining the lot.  For example, if an employer leases their lot and the landlord is responsible for salting and plowing the lot, the landlord could be liable for employee slips and falls if the landlord did not fulfill its obligation to salt and plow.

Employers should review the circumstances of their buildings and parking areas. If they own their own lots, they should take steps to ensure their lots are safe.  If employers are in a lease agreement for their parking lots, they should examine their lease to determine who is responsible for maintaining and controlling the lots to determine who would be liable for any injuries.