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New Georiga Case Law Clarifying the Intersection of the “Lunch Break Defense” and the “Ingress and Egress Doctrine:”

By: Zachary Kunz, Associate, Georgia

 

In Georgia, we know that employees who are hurt during a “regularly scheduled break” are generally not compensable. Wilkie v. Travelers Ins. Co., 124 Ga. App. 714 (1971). The so called “Lunch Break Defense” applies even if the injury occurs “within working hours and on the employer’s premises.”  An accident is not compensable occurs during a break time when the employee is provided a scheduled rest break or lunch break where the employee is completely free to do as he or she chooses because it is considered to have happened on purely personal time.  Thus, an injury occurring during the scheduled break period arises out of an individual pursuit and not out of his employment and is not compensable. Edwards v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 130 Ga. App. 23 (202 SE2d 208).

It is also well known that an injury sustained during a reasonable period of ingress and egress on the employer’s premises is compensable in Georgia. Peoples v. Emory University, 206 Ga. App. 213 (1993).  The rationale of the ingress and egress rule is to allow an employee a reasonable time to enter and exit his place of employment before he is considered to be pursuing his own personal pursuits.

But what happens when these two separate theories collide? What happens if an employee is injured on the employer’s premises while leaving for his scheduled lunch break?

Until recently, the law had not clearly reconciled the lunch break defense and the ingress/egress rule, which resulted in seemingly arbitrary decisions with both sides arguing valid case law. For example, the law would provide different outcomes and coverage for an employee depending on their subjective intent to depart or remain on the employer’s premises during their scheduled break. Therefore, the Georgia Court of Appeals clarified these two conflicting lines of cases in their decision in Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers’ Compensation.

In Frett, the Georgia Court of Appeals definitively expanded the “Lunch Break Defense” to include the time the employee is on the employer’s property going to or coming from his scheduled break. It further stated that the ingress and egress rule does not apply unless it is the start or end of their scheduled work day.  

In the instant case, Ms. Frett was an insurance claims associate for State Farm who was required to take a 45-minute lunch break at a set time every day.   During her break, it was undisputed that she would log out of the phone system and was free to do as she pleased. She often prepared her meals and ate in the breakroom or took the meal outside to eat on a bench or in her car.

On the date of her incident, Ms. Frett heated up her lunch in the breakroom and planned to leave the facility to eat her lunch. Before leaving the breakroom, she suffered an injury when she slipped on the tile floor.

As expected, the ALJ found this claim compensable and that it took place within the course and scope of her employment. The ALJ was overturned by the State Board, who found that the accident occurred during her scheduled lunch break and that it did not change the outcome of the case that she was still leaving the employer’s property because she was leaving to attend a “purely personal matter.”  The Superior Court agreed with the Board on appeal, leading the Claimant to appeal the claim to the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the Board and found that an injury sustained during a scheduled break was not compensable, even if it occurred during ingress and egress. The Court found that the injury did not arise out of her employment, but rather an individual pursuit. The Court further found that the extension of the ingress and egress rule to cover scheduled lunch breaks was improper as it weakened the Supreme Court’s decision in Farr, which can/should only be done by the Supreme Court.  The Court further wanted to establish a clearer bright-line rule, but did ask for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue. Moving forward until the Supreme Court decides to provide clarification, the ingress/egress doctrines should only be applied to the start and end of the work day.