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Davaut v. University of South Carolina

Supreme Court of South Carolina

October 26, 2016

Nathalie I. Davaut, Employee, Claimant, Petitioner,
v.
University of South Carolina and State Accident Fund, Respondents. Appellate Case No. 2015-001218

          Heard May 18, 2016

         Appeal from the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

         REVERSED AND REMANDED

          Paul L. Reeves, of Reeves Law Firm, L.L.C., of Columbia, for Petitioner.

          Paul L. Hendrix, of Jones & Hendrix, P.A., of Spartanburg, for Respondents.

          KITTREDGE, JUSTICE

         Petitioner Nathalie I. Davaut appeals the denial of her claim for workers' compensation benefits for injuries she sustained attempting to leave her workplace. We now reverse the court of appeals, which upheld the Workers' Compensation Commission's denial of those benefits. Davaut v. Univ. of S.C., Op. No. 2015-UP-041 (S.C. Ct. App. filed Jan. 21, 2015). As discussed below, we reject the suggestion that this case is controlled by the "going and coming" rule, which generally precludes workers' compensation benefits for injuries sustained while an employee is traveling to and from work. We adopt the so-called "divided premises" rule and hold that when an employee travels from one portion of her employer's property to another over a reasonably necessary and direct route, the employee remains in the course of her employment for purposes of workers' compensation. We thus remand this case to the Workers' Compensation Commission for a determination of benefits.

         I.

         Petitioner, a French and Spanish professor at the University of South Carolina Lancaster (USCL), was injured walking to her car after work on February 16, 2012. Petitioner had been reviewing résumés in the library on behalf of a search committee looking to hire a new Spanish professor. She left the library, where the résumés were on reserve, when it closed at 9 p.m. To reach her car, which was in a university lot provided for faculty and student parking, [1] Petitioner was required to cross Hubbard Drive (the Street), which bisects USCL's campus. While crossing the Street, Petitioner was struck by a vehicle and injured. It is undisputed that the Street and the crosswalks that span it are not owned or controlled by Petitioner's employer, the University of South Carolina (USC);[2] rather, they are maintained and controlled by the City of Lancaster. However, it is also undisputed that both the library-where Petitioner had been working-and the parking lot-where Petitioner was headed-belong to USC.

         Petitioner sought workers' compensation benefits from her employer and its insurer, State Accident Fund (collectively, Respondents). Respondents, relying on the going and coming rule, denied Petitioner's injuries were compensable, on the basis Petitioner was injured away from USC's property.

         Petitioner appeared before a single commissioner (the Commissioner), who found Petitioner's injuries were not compensable. In so finding, the Commissioner relied upon this Court's opinion in Howell v. Pacific Columbia Mills, 291 S.C. 469, 354 S.E.2d 384 (1987), which the Commissioner found to be controlling. In Howell, we held that a millworker did not suffer a compensable injury when she was struck by a car while crossing a public street via a crosswalk that connected an employer-maintained parking lot with one of the mill's main entrances. Id. at 471-74, 354 S.E.2d at 385-86. Because Petitioner's injuries also occurred on a public street over which her employer exercised no control, the Commissioner concluded those injuries were not compensable.

         Upon review by an appellate panel of the Workers' Compensation Commission (the Panel), Petitioner argued that the Commissioner erred in relying upon Howell because the employee in Howell never reached the employer's premises before being injured. Petitioner claimed her injuries arose under distinguishable circumstances-she had already reached her employer's property; moreover, she had not yet left her employer's property because the Street, although not owned by USC, is "so close in proximity and so close in relation so as to be in practical effect a part of [USC's] premises." The Panel acknowledged that Howell was factually distinguishable, but nevertheless rejected Petitioner's argument and upheld the Commissioner's ruling denying Petitioner's claim.

         After the Panel rejected Petitioner's arguments, she appealed to the court of appeals. Petitioner claimed that because she was injured while traveling from one portion of USC's property to another, the Panel erred in denying her relief. The court of appeals disagreed and upheld the Panel's denial of coverage. Davaut, Op. No. 2015-UP-041. The court of appeals concluded that "substantial evidence" supported the Panel's determination that Petitioner's injuries "did not arise out of and in the course ...


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