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Worker may have premises liability claim for non-work injuries

Most states, including New Hampshire, follow similar negligence principles in defining when a landowner is liable for damages to visitors injured on the owner's premises. When an employee is injured on the employer's premises, there may be an occasional dispute over whether workers' compensation covers the matter. If the employee was not working at the time of the accident, workers' comp will be ruled out, but the employee may nonetheless be able to make a claim for full tort damages under the legal theory of premises liability.

One example of this kind of dispute occurred in another state and was recently the subject of a decision made by that state's highest court. An employee for a state university had clocked out of work and was walking toward her parked car. She fell on an icy sidewalk owned by the university and broke her hip. She was unable to work for over a year due to the injury.

The insurer for the University of Minnesota denied workers' compensation benefits by arguing that she was already clocked out and the accident did not arise "in the course of employment." The state's supreme court rejected that argument, and held that compensation benefits were payable because there was a direct connection between the employment and the injury. The employment exposed her to a hazard on the employer's premises as part of her work environment. The slip and fall arose out of the employment and was covered by workers' compensation benefits.

However, if the accident occurred outside of the scope of employment, then proof that the employer's negligence caused the icy sidewalk would give her the right to sue for full tort damages under a theory of premises liability. That claim would include pain and suffering and other damages that exceed workers' comp benefits. Employees in New Hampshire and other states generally cannot sue the employer for full tort damages but that prohibition would not apply if the accident was not work-related. An injured worker facing such potential issues would benefit greatly by going over the matter with an attorney experienced in handling cases in both areas of the law.

Source: mprnews.org, "Workers comp and the case of the slippery U sidewalk", Bob Collins, June 28, 2017

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