Frett v. State Farm Emp. Workers' Comp.

Decision Date02 November 2018
Docket NumberA18A0820
Citation348 Ga.App. 30,821 S.E.2d 132
CourtGeorgia Court of Appeals

Robert Eugene Bourne, Cumming, Nicholas Dale Benzine, Atlanta, Elliot J. Bourne, for Appellant

Charles E. Harris IV, Sonoma, Natalie Elizabeth Rogers, for Appellees

Brown, Judge.

We granted Rochelle Frett’s application for discretionary appeal to review the superior court’s order, affirming the decision of the Appellate Division of the State Board of Workers' Compensation, which had denied Frett’s claim for benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act (the "Act"). For the following reasons, we affirm.

The facts in this case are undisputed. At the time of the incident, Frett worked as an insurance claims associate for State Farm Insurance Companies ("State Farm"). Each workday, Frett had a mandatory, unpaid 45-minute lunch break. An automated system scheduled staggered lunch breaks to ensure enough associates were available to handle calls. After logging on for the day, Frett would see her schedule, including the time for her lunch break. At her scheduled lunch break time, Frett would log out of the phone system. All parties agree that Frett was free to do as she pleased on her break and could leave the office for lunch if she wished. Frett was not expected or asked to do work during her lunch breaks. Generally, Frett brought her lunch and would walk to the State Farm employee breakroom on her floor to prepare her food. During the spring and summer, she would eat her lunch on a bench outside of the office building or in her car in the parking lot. State Farm has a suite within the shared office building, but does not own the parking lot or the surrounding outdoor areas.

On the day of the incident, Frett logged out of the phone system at her assigned time and walked to the breakroom where she microwaved her food. As Frett started to exit the breakroom to take her lunch outside the building, she slipped on water and fell. It is undisputed that Frett was still inside the breakroom when she fell. A manager helped Frett to her feet and instructed her to complete an incident report, which she did. Frett then took her lunch outside to eat on a bench, as planned, but was in pain and left work early.

Based upon these facts, the administrative law judge ("ALJ") awarded Frett temporary total disability benefits and medical expenses arising from her fall, relying upon this Court’s decision in Rockwell v. Lockheed Martin Corp. , 248 Ga. App. 73, 545 S.E.2d 121 (2001). The State Board of Workers' Compensation (the "Board") reversed the ALJ’s award, concluding that Frett’s injury did not arise out of her employment because it occurred while she was on a "regularly scheduled break." According to the Board, the fact that Frett was in the process of leaving and still on State Farm’s premises at the time of the injury did not change the outcome as Frett was leaving to attend to "a purely personal matter." The Board distinguished Rockwell on the ground that it addressed whether the Act applied to bar the worker’s tort action against her employer, a separate determination from whether the injury at issue was compensable under the Act.1 The Superior Court of Dekalb County affirmed the Board’s denial of benefits.

On appeal, Frett asserts that the Board erred by applying the scheduled lunch break exception to her case and by ruling that the ingress and egress rule does not apply to an employee leaving the employer’s premises on a scheduled lunch break. "Because the relevant facts are not in dispute, and because [Frett] contends that the Board applied an erroneous theory of law to the facts, we apply a de novo standard of review." Freeman v. Southwire Co. , 269 Ga. App. 692, 693, 605 S.E.2d 95 (2004).

In the absence of legal error, the factual findings of the State Board of Workers' Compensation must be affirmed by the superior court and by the Court of Appeals when supported by any evidence in the administrative record. However, erroneous applications of law to undisputed facts, as well as decisions based on erroneous theories of law, are subject to the de novo standard of review.

(Citation omitted.) Hill v. Omni Hotel at CNN Center , 268 Ga. App. 144, 146, 601 S.E.2d 472 (2004).

To be compensable under the Act, an "injury by accident" must arise "out of and in the course of employment." See OCGA § 34-9-1 (4). Both of these "independent and distinct criteria" must be satisfied. Mayor &c. of Savannah v. Stevens , 278 Ga. 166 (1), 598 S.E.2d 456 (2004).

The words "in the course of the employment" relate to the time, place, and circumstances under which the accident takes place, and an accident arises in the course of the employment when it occurs within the period of employment at a place where the employee may reasonably be in the performance of his duties and while he is fulfilling those duties or engaged in something incidental thereto. The words "arising out of the employment" refer to the causal connection between the employment and the injury.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Ray Bell Constr. Co. v. King , 281 Ga. 853, 854-855, 642 S.E.2d 841 (2007).

Scheduled Break Exception

In Ocean Acc. & Guar. Corp. v. Farr , 180 Ga. 266, 178 S.E. 728 (1935), our Supreme Court first enunciated the idea of a lunch break exception to compensability. A worker on-site for his employer’s project was injured walking down steps to the basement to eat his lunch during a break. Id. The Court held that because the employee’s "preparation for lunch and his eating lunch was his individual affair," the injury "arose out of his individual pursuit and not out of his employment" and thus was not compensable under the Act. Id. at 270-271, 178 S.E. 728. We have previously stated that the exception "is founded on the proposition that during the lunch hour the employee turns aside from his employment for his own purposes, and the master-servant relationship is suspended." American Hardware Mut. Ins. Co. v. Burt , 103 Ga. App. 811, 814, 120 S.E.2d 797 (1961). In Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Honea , 71 Ga. App. 569, 31 S.E.2d 421 (1944), this Court followed Farr and held that an employee injured on her employer’s premises as she was leaving on her lunch break to go to a hair salon could not pursue a claim under the Act. Honea , supra, 71 Ga. App. at 572-573, 31 S.E.2d 421.

We have also applied Farr to uphold the denial of benefits in cases in which the employee was injured on the employer’s premises, while walking to the bathroom on a scheduled break. See, e.g., Wilkie v. Travelers Ins. Co. , 124 Ga. App. 714, 715-717, 185 S.E.2d 783 (1971) ; Hanson v. Globe Indem. Co. , 85 Ga. App. 179 (2), 68 S.E.2d 179 (1951). We reasoned:

Were this an open question, we might be disposed to hold that time set aside by an employer as a "rest break" and for the performance of functions necessary for the health and comfort of an employee on the job should be considered as incidental to the employment, and that injuries sustained while engaged in such performance should be deemed compensable as arising out of and in the course of employment. However, in "lunch break" and "rest break" cases, both the Supreme Court and this court have laid down the rule that where the employee is free to use the time as he chooses so that it is personal to him, an injury occurring during this time arises out of his individual pursuit and not out of his employment. [Cits.]

Wilkie , supra, 124 Ga. App. at 715, 185 S.E.2d 783.

In Edwards v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. , 130 Ga. App. 23, 202 S.E.2d 208 (1973), this Court imposed a limitation on the lunch break exception created in Farr by declining to extend the rule to unscheduled breaks "for the reason that the time is not released to [the employee] as free time during which he may do as he will and it cannot be construed as an altogether personal pursuit, as is the case during scheduled breaks." Id. at 24 (2), 202 S.E.2d 208. Thus, as the rule exists now,

where a scheduled rest break or lunch break is provided to employees during which the employee is free to use the time as he chooses, making it personal to him, an injury occurring during the break period arises out of an individual pursuit and not out of his employment and is not compensable.

(Citation omitted; emphasis supplied.) Id. at 24 (1), 202 S.E.2d 208. See Miles v. Brown Transport Corp. , 163 Ga. App. 563, 564, 294 S.E.2d 734 (1982) (scheduled break exception did not apply to employee’s injury sustained on employer’s premises while employee was leaving work during lunch break because her lunches were not "scheduled" and she often performed "job-related duties" during lunch). The scheduled break exception applies even if the injury occurs "within working hours and on the employer’s premises." Miles , 163 Ga. App. at 564, 294 S.E.2d 734.

Ingress and Egress Rule

In a parallel, but separate line of cases, this Court fashioned the ingress and egress rule. It is a variation of the long-establishedrule that "[p]reparations by the employee at the place of employment, to begin the work for which he is employed, is a part of the duties of the employment." (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Employers Ins. Co. v. Bass , 81 Ga. App. 306 (2), 58 S.E.2d 516 (1950). In Bass , we first applied this principle to an employee walking from one portion of the employer’s premises to another to actually begin work for the day. Id. at 306-307 (3), 58 S.E.2d 516. In Fed. Ins. Co. v. Coram , 95 Ga. App. 622, 98 S.E.2d 214 (1957), another case of first impression, we applied it to an employee who was injured while she walked to her parked car at the end of the work day. Id. at 622-623, 98 S.E.2d 214. In so holding, we noted that

[t]he "rest period" and "lunch hour" cases are not applicable here. The reasoning behind such cases is that during a rest period or lunch hour, an employee is spending such time for his personal benefit and pleasure. In the instant case it cannot be said that in proceeding

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5 cases
  • Frett v. State Farm Emp. Workers' Comp.
    • United States
    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • June 16, 2020
    ...upheld the denial of her claim. Frett then appealed the decision of the superior court, and in Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers’ Compensation, 348 Ga. App. 30, 821 S.E.2d 132 (2018), the Court of Appeals affirmed. Relying on Ocean Acc. & Guar. Corp. v. Farr, 180 Ga. 266, 178 S.E. 728 (1......
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  • Daniel v. Bremen-Bowdon Inv., Co.
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • July 14, 2021
    ...(2019) (" Daniel I ") (physical precedent only), this Court, relying on our decision in Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers' Compensation , 348 Ga. App. 30, 36, 821 S.E.2d 132 (2018) (" Frett I "), affirmed the superior court's order upholding the decision of the State Board of Workers’ Co......
  • Daniel v. Bremen-Bowdon Inv. Co.
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    • Georgia Court of Appeals
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    ...employee is injured while leaving and returning to work on a regularly scheduled lunch break. Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers’ Compensation , 348 Ga. App. 30, 36, 821 S.E.2d 132 (2018). In Frett , this Court concluded that "the extension of the ingress and egress rule to cover cases in......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Worker's Compensation
    • United States
    • Mercer University School of Law Mercer Law Reviews No. 71-1, January 2020
    • Invalid date 58-59.28. Id. at 97, 816 S.E.2d at 59.29. Id. at 98, 816 S.E.2d at 59.30. Id. at 98-99, 816 S.E.2d at 60 (Bethel, J., concurring).31. 348 Ga. App. 30, 821 S.E.2d 132 (2018). 32. Id. at 30, 821 S.E.2d at 133-34.33. 248 Ga. App. 73, 545 S.E.2d 121 (2001).34. Frett, 348 Ga. App. at 30, 821 ......
  • Workers' Compensation
    • United States
    • Mercer University School of Law Mercer Law Reviews No. 73-1, September 2021
    • Invalid date
    ...844 S.E.2d at 751. 6. Id. at 44, 844 S.E.2d at 750.7. 248 Ga. App. 73, 545 S.E.2d 121 (2001).8. Frett v. State Farm Emp. Workers' Comp., 348 Ga. App. 30, 30 821 S.E.2d 132, 134 (2018), rev'd, 309 Ga. 44, 844 S.E.2d 749 (2020), vacated, 358 Ga. App. 138, 854 S.E.2d 347 (2021).9. Frett, 309 G......

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