Workers Compensation Deviation from Employment – Or Not

An employee did not deviate from her employment when she "responded instinctively and instantaneously to an unexpected and dangerous situation that arose directly out of her job duties." Stokes v. Coweta County Board of Education, A11A2062, (Court of Appeals, January 11, 2012.)

As head custodian at an elementary school, Claimant was required each day to unlock and open the gates to the school. On a very dark and rainy morning, she pulled her car close to the gate to shine the headlights on the lock. As she was unlocking the gate, her car began to roll downhill, away from the gate. She went after the car, but tripped and fell after a few steps, and the car ran over her foot, which was later amputated. The ALJ awarded benefits, but the case was reversed by the full Board and affirmed by the Superior Court of Coweta County.

The Appellate Division applied the "deviation rule" to deny benefits, holding that in going after her car, Stokes "undertook a personal mission, in pursuit of her property, not connected to her duties with the employer." But the Court of Appeals reversed in favor of the employee, ruling that she sustained an injury arising out of and in the course of her employment. "But for the necessity that she stop her car on the sloped driveway and exit the car to open the gate, the accident would not have occurred." The Appellate Division had erroneously applied the deviation rule, said the Court of Appeals: "It contravenes the humanitarian purpose of the Worker's Compensation Act and distorts the definition of a deviation from employment to say that her attempt to stop the rolling car was a purely personal mission."

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