Hinerman v. Savant Sys.

Docket Number21CA14
Decision Date16 August 2022
Citation2022 Ohio 2857
PartiesBrenda E. Hinerman, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Savant Systems, Inc., et al. Defendants-Appellants.
CourtOhio Court of Appeals

J Anthony Coleman, Hanna, Campbell & Powell, LLP, Akron Ohio, for appellant Savant Systems, Inc.

Dave Yost, Ohio Attorney General, and Denise A. Gary, Assistant Attorney General, Columbus, Ohio, for appellant Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

Jon H Goodman, Jon Goodman Law, LLC, Worthington, Ohio, and Katherine E. Ivan, The Ivan Law Firm, Columbus, Ohio, for appellee.



{¶1} Brenda E. Hinerman filed a workers' compensation claim after closing her truck door on her finger while in the parking lot of her employer, Savant Systems, Inc. ("Savant"). The claim was administratively disallowed. Hinerman appealed to the Hocking County Common Pleas Court, which found that she had a compensable injury, granted her motion for summary judgment, and overruled the summary judgment motions of Savant and the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation ("BWC"). Savant and BWC now appeal from the trial court's judgment. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand this matter to the trial court to enter summary judgment in favor of Savant and BWC and for further proceedings consistent with this decision.


{¶2} Hinerman works at a Savant factory making glass tubing for fluorescent lights. Savant owns and controls two parking lots which are the only places employees can park and provide the only means of ingress to and egress from the factory. On August 20, 2020, Hinerman was scheduled to begin a shift at 11:00 p.m. She drove her personal truck into Savant's upper parking lot, the lot closest to the factory, at about 10:50 p.m. She parked and exited her truck while carrying her lunch box in her left hand or over her left shoulder and a bag of Savant's flame-retardant jackets, which she had taken home to wash, in her right hand. A coworker parked beside her, and they began to converse about a difficult shift Hinerman had covered for the coworker the week before. Hinerman accidentally closed her truck door on her right pinky finger and had to unlock the door to free it. After composing herself, Hinerman walked into the factory and went to the first-aid room to get treatment. Later during her shift, Hinerman notified her supervisor of the finger injury.

{¶3} Hinerman sustained a fracture of her right fifth distal phalanx, which was complicated by a staph infection. She was off work from August 29, 2020, through November 7, 2020. During that time, she developed cholestasis, a liver disorder resulting from antibiotics prescribed to treat the infection. On November 8, 2020, she returned to full work duty.

{¶4} She filed a workers' compensation claim which BWC disallowed. Hinerman appealed, and an Ohio Industrial Commission district hearing officer disallowed the claim. Hinerman appealed, and a staff hearing officer at the commission disallowed the claim on the ground that there was insufficient proof that the injury occurred in the course of and arose out of Hinerman's employment. Hinerman again appealed, but the commission refused to hear the appeal under R.C. 4123.511(E) and later denied her request for reconsideration. Hinerman next filed an appeal in common pleas court under R.C. 4123.512. Hinerman, Savant, and BWC each moved for summary judgment.

{¶5} After hearing oral argument on the motions, the trial court concluded Hinerman had a compensable injury. The court explained that under the coming-and- going rule, injuries incurred by fixed-situs employees like Hinerman while traveling to or from work are not compensable because they lack the requisite causal connection to the employment. However, the rule does not operate as a complete bar to compensation for employees injured in the zone of employment. The court explained that Hinerman was in the zone of employment at the time of her injury because she was in a parking lot owned and controlled by Savant. She was "just about to start her shift" and was acting for the benefit of Savant because she had arrived "for the specific purpose of going to work." The injury occurred while she was "in the process of exiting and securing her vehicle so she could go to work." She had to park on Savant's property, exit her vehicle, and secure it by closing and locking the doors. The court explained that "[t]his is all part of reporting for work." The court noted that "properly secured vehicles are of some value to the employer in that, if vehicles are not properly secured, employees would be distracted and would be tempted to check on their vehicles during working hours." In addition, "work would likely be disrupted by an increase in thefts of parked vehicles and out of the vehicles parked in the parking lot." The court recognized Hinerman's injury resulted from her own carelessness but stated that

the case law leads the Court to believe, that if Ms. Hinerman tripped over her own two feet in the parking lot on her way into the factory, that under those facts, her injury would be compensable under Ohio Law. See White v. Bureau of Worker's Compensation, 2018-Ohio-4309 (9th Dist.)[.] This Court does not believe that there is a great deal of difference between injury due to tripping over your own feet and accidentally crushing your finger in a car door.

[Id. at 5] The court granted Hinerman's motion for summary judgment and overruled the summary judgment motions of Savant and BWC.


{¶6} Savant presents two assignments of error:

Assignment of Error No. 1: The Trial Court Erred by Granting Appellee's Motion for Summary Judgment as Appellee Cannot Establish a Compensable Workers' Compensation Claim.
Assignment of Error No. 2: The Trial Court Erred by Denying Appellants' Motions for Summary Judgment as Appellee Cannot Establish a Compensable Workers' Compensation Claim.

{¶7} BWC presents one assignment of error: "The Trial Court erred in granting Summary Judgment in favor of Hinerman and in denying the BWC's and Savant's Motions for Summary Judgment."


{¶8} Savant's first assignment of error challenges the grant of summary judgment to Hinerman and second assignment of error challenges the denial of summary judgment to Savant and BWC. BWC's sole assignment of error also challenges these rulings. Because the assignments of error are related, we consider them together.

A. Standard of Review

{¶9} R.C. 4123.512(A) authorizes a claimant to appeal to a common pleas court an Industrial Commission order which denies the claimant's right to participate in the workers' compensation fund. Benton v. Hamilton Cty. Educational Serv. Ctr., 123 Ohio St.3d 347, 2009-Ohio-4969, 916 N.E.2d 778, ¶ 8. "The common pleas court's review in a R.C. 4123.512 appeal is de novo, and the claimant bears the burden of proving a right to participate in the workers' compensation fund regardless of the decision below." Willis v. Ohio Dept. of Transp., 2016-Ohio-1593, 50 N.E.3d 581, ¶ 38 (4th Dist.).

{¶10} In this case, the common pleas court resolved the matter on motions for summary judgment. We review a decision on motions for summary judgment de novo. Willis at ¶ 35; Harter v. Chillicothe Long-Term Care, Inc., 4th Dist. Ross No. 11CA3277, 2012-Ohio-2464, ¶ 12. We afford no deference to the trial court's decision but rather conduct an independent review to determine whether summary judgment is appropriate. Harter at ¶ 12. "A summary judgment is appropriate only when: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; (2) reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion when viewing the evidence in favor of the nonmoving party, and that conclusion is adverse to the nonmoving party; and (3) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Hawk v. Menasha Packaging, 4th Dist. Ross No. 07CA2966, 2008-Ohio-483, ¶ 6.

{¶11} "The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden to demonstrate that no genuine issues of material fact exist and that they are entitled to judgment in their favor as a matter of law." DeepRock Disposal Solutions, LLC v. Forté Prods., LLC, 4th Dist. Washington No. 20CA15, 2021-Ohio-1436, ¶ 68. "To meet its burden, the moving party must specifically refer to 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, written admissions, affidavits, transcripts of evidence, and written stipulations of fact, if any, timely filed in the action,' that affirmatively demonstrate that the nonmoving party has no evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims." Id., quoting Civ.R. 56(C). "Once that burden is met, the nonmoving party then has a reciprocal burden to set forth specific facts to show that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at ¶ 6.

B. Requirements for a Compensable Injury

{¶12} The purpose of the Ohio Workers' Compensation Act "is to protect employees against risks and hazards incident to the performance of their work." Bailey v. Republic Engineered Steels, Inc., 91 Ohio St.3d 38 41, 741 N.E.2d 121 (2001). The workers' compensation system is a no-fault system. Stetter v. R.J. Corman Derailment Servs., LLC, 125 Ohio St.3d 280, 2010-Ohio-1029, 927 N.E.2d 1092, ¶ 75. "[N]egligence on the part of an employer is irrelevant in determining whether [a work-related injury] is compensable." Griffin v. Hydra-Matic Div., Gen. Motors Corp., 39 Ohio St.3d 79, 81, 529 N.E.2d 436 (1988). Likewise," 'contributory negligence of the employee, not amounting to a purposely self-inflicted injury'" will not defeat a workers' compensation claim. Marlow v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 10 Ohio St.2d 18, 21-22, 225 N.E.2d 241 (1967),[1] quoting Kasari v. Indus. Comm., 125 Ohio St. 410, 181 N.E....

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